Iowa: Geoff Fruin, City of Iowa City, City Manager

Posted on July 23, 2013

Link: Iowa City Council unanimously votes to appoint Geoff Fruin as city manager

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. With that said, on to the main event, the first ever installment of the Fifty Nifty which has the same feel as Opening Day in baseball, Christmas Eve, the ol’ TGIF on ABC, and the Fiscal (New) Year.

Our Take on Iowa

Onto to the Hawkeye state, known by political junkies as home of the first presidential primary (caucus) and where presidential dreams go to die every four years on a cold January night. We owe the state of Iowa immense gratitude as it was site of one of the most famous political speeches ever. Just think, no Iowa then no Howard Dean scream.

ELGL is also fascinated by Iowa and some of its laws (yes, these are actual laws) such as:

  • Kisses may last for as much as, but no more than, five minutes.
  • A man with a moustache may never kiss a woman in public.
  • An owner or employee of an establishment in Iowa that sells alcohol can’t legally consume a drink there after closing for business.
  • It is illegal to hunt from an aircraft.
  • It is illegal to accept a gratuity or tip in Iowa.

Another interesting fact about Iowa and the Midwest is the region is part of ELGL’s immediate expansion plans. Ben McCready, Rock Island assistant to the city manager and Bridget Doyle, Village of Lombard, IL communications coordinator are spearheading the effort. The effort is in response to interest we have received from our 15 or so members from the Midwest and from support of MPA programs such as Northern Illinois and Drake University. If you want to learn more, you can contact Ben at Also, several months ago we profiled one of our Midwest members, Adam Hackman. Link: New Sensation with Adam Hackman, Drake University MPA Student.

Moving on, for the pulse of local government in Iowa, we turn to Geoff Fruin, Iowa City assistant to the city manager. Geoff brings an interesting perspective to the Fifty Nifty as his father has served as a city councilor in Bloomington, IL for the last 15 years. We imagine there were many heated dinner time conversations about the politics administration dichotomy.


Geoff Fruin

Geoff Fruin

Position: Assistant to the City Manager

Organization: City of Iowa City

Prior Experience: Assistant City ManagerTown of Normal, Illinois

Education: University of Iowa, Bachelor, Business Administration and University of Illinois at Chicago, Master, Urban Planning and Policy

Connect: LinkedIn, Twitter,

Connect with the City of Iowa City:  Web | Facebook |Twitter

Background Check

Geoff was born and raised in Bloomington, Illinois. His parents, Jim and Susan, still live there. They are retired from work in the insurance business. Jim is on the Bloomington City Council where he has served for the past 20 years.

Alderman Jim FruinGeoff earned a BA in Business Administration from the University of Iowa in 2002. He then earned a Master in Urban Planning and Public Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2004. In 2000, while attending U of I, Geoff interned for the Economic Development Council for the President. He worked in the White House during the last four months of the Clinton Administration. The extraordinary work ethic of the staff people whom he worked with made quite an impression.

From 2004 through 2011, he worked for the Town of Normal, Illinois. He started as Administrative Analyst, then progressed to Assistant to the City Manager, and finally to Assistant City Manager.

One of the interesting projects Geoff worked on in Normal was the establishment of a minor league professional baseball team and facility. A partnership was formed between Heartland Community College, the Town of Normal and the privately owned baseball team. The college provided $4 million for the project. The Town provided $1.5 million. The private team then added its own resources to build a stadium and related facilities. The facilities are owned by the team. The land that they occupy is owned by the college. The college has use of the facilities for its athletic programs.

He was also able to work on various downtown redevelopment projects. Those included two new parking ramps; reconstructed sewer, water and street facilities; a Children’s Discovery Museum; a Convention Center; and a new building housing a new railroad station and city hall. The new railroad station is part of the upgrade of passenger rail service to high speed rail on the corridor from Chicago to Saint Louis. The Town was involved in the promotion of electric vehicles due to the presence of Mitsubishi as a major employer. The Town purchased six electric vehicles and was a major provider of the fifty charging stations located in the community.

In November, 2011, Geoff became Assistant to the City Manager in Iowa City.

Iowa City Cliff Notes


Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa. The city has a total population of 67,862, making it the fifth-largest city in the state.Iowa City is governed by an elected city council of seven members: four council members at large and three district members.[30] The two council members at large who receive the most votes and the three district council members serve four year terms. The other two council members at large serve two year terms. A mayor and mayor pro tem are elected by the council from within its members to serve terms of two years.

Under this form of council-manager government the powers of the city are vested in the city council. The council is responsible for appointing the city manager (currently the City Manager is Tom Markus) who implements the policy decisions of the city council, enforces city ordinances and appoints city officials. The council also appoints the city attorney and city clerk.

Iowa City is unusual in that it is one of only four cities in Iowa in which the mayor is chosen by the city council. The mayor of Iowa City serves a two-year term and has a vote on council, representing the district or at-large position from which he or she was elected. The mayor is primarily a figurehead or a “first among equals”, with some power to set agendas and lead meetings, as well as serving as the public face of city government.

Notables from Iowa City: Moses Bloom, former mayor of Iowa City and the first Jewish mayor of any major American City, Jay Hilgenberg, former center for the Chicago Bears and broadcaster, Russell Stover, candy maker, and Brian Bell (musician), guitarist of the alternative rock band Weezer.

Lightning Round

Best piece of advice from your parents.

Show up early, work hard and never be unprepared.  It has been a pretty simple formula that seems to work pretty well.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party.

Headlining would be Pearl Jam, supporting acts are the Strokes, Kings of Leon, Chris Cornell and Glen Hansard. Is that asking too much?

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……

Watch my kids find happiness and witness how they change the world

Most influential books in your life.  

  • Right now I’m reading Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City”, which is proving to live up to the hype.
  • Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”, is a powerful book that challenged my way of thinking.
  • Perhaps not influential, but definitely entertaining, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading anything written by Erik Larson.

If you could Facetime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?

Michael JordanHerring-and-Jordan-small

Martin Luther King Jr.

Mahatma Gandhi

Thomas Edison

Jon Stewart

Describe the inside of your car:

Car seats, music and nearly fifteen years of character.

What’s the meaning of life?

Not to spend any time wondering about the meaning life and instead live it while you have it and leave it a little better than you found it.

The Interview

Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in Washington.

Accessible, responsive and yet constrained in many ways

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? 

When I realized I couldn’t play professional baseball I told myself I could be a sports agent, scout or broadcaster. As a kid I always thought I would end up in sports.

I was first exposed to local government through my father, who has been City Council member in our hometown for over fifteen years. In college I interned at the White House and realized how gratifying public service can be as a profession. After that experience I recognized I wanted to work in the public sector, but I also knew I wanted to be closer to the community. I wanted be able to see, touch and be held accountable in my work and only local government offers you that challenge and satisfaction. My first job was as an Administrative Analyst in Normal, IL, which is a fantastic, progressive community in the heart of the Midwest.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

I’m going to skirt this question, but I’ll say that I have been fortunate enough to work in two outstanding communities in my career. I feel a strong connection to both and I feel great pride knowing I have contributed in some small fashion to both of those cities.

There are dozens of specific accomplishments I could mention, but the reality is that most often success is achieved by a team of people working toward the same goal. Sometimes it is easy for the credit to go to the top of an organization, but we all know that in most cases there are plenty of other deserving people who worked to achieve the success.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.  

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I have certainly made my share of mistakes, and most could have been avoided with better communication. I have learned that explaining the ‘why’ is just as important as the action you are conveying. Take the time to explain the ‘why’, whether it is to employees, elected officials or the general public. Others might not always agree, but they will respect and appreciate your openness. This not only builds credibility but limits the rumors and conspiracy theories that can be so damaging to a community or organization.

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? How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?  

Describing the role of someone in local government management is difficult. While this may not be a popular stance within our profession, I am not convinced there is a strong need for us to make sure every citizen understands or appreciates our individual roles. The majority of our residents do not have the time or interest to engage in a deep understanding of the operational aspects of local government. As long as they find their local government accessible, responsive and efficient stewards of their tax dollars they will be satisfied.  If they encounter poor customer service on the street, get their call transferred multiple times when they contact City Hall, or have to visit three different departments to get a permit approved, then they start to care more about the particulars of the organization. For those of us in city management, let’s focus our energy on our actions and efficiently meet our citizen’s needs with the highest level of customer service. If we do that well, then the need for communicating through words will be much less critical.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Without a doubt. Local government is an incredibly rewarding profession that challenges both your technical skills and, more importantly, your personal skills. However, there are a few pre-requisites before taking that leap.

  • You have to enjoy being held accountable and thrive under stressful environments.
  • You need to stay grounded and be able to keep a perspective beyond your position or your community
  • You need to have thick skin and be able to accept criticism, both constructive and not-so constructive!

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.

  • Do not try and tell me what you think I want to hear. Be authentic and confident with your skills and abilities.
  • Do some homework on the community, but don’t just read and repeat a few recent headlines. If you are serious about the position take the time to understand some of the local issues.
  • Understand you are member of a team. Individual accolades and accomplishments are less important than a demonstrated ability to build productive relationships. Tell me how you facilitate partnerships, not about your individual achievements.

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

I will leave my family out of this, but having grown up with a father as a local elected official has given me an important perspective on elected officials and I think has helped me on the professional side of things.  For my three mentors, I would have to look to the three supervisors I have had in my career. Each has taught me more than I am sure they realize.

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………

Reinventing traditional service delivery methods and outdated regulatory and policy approaches to evolving community issues.

What question(s) should we have asked you?

This is more than anyone would ever want to know about me. I think I have said enough!

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