Leadership Case Responses: Gwen Voelpel & Kurt Bressner

Posted on December 12, 2014

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ELGL is partnering with ICMA  to examine and think about a local government leadership case study.  We asked our members to review this case about the “post heroic leader,” and then share your ideas.

Here are responses from Gwen Voelpel, the Assistant City Manager for the City of Sea Tac, Washington; and Kurt Bressner, an ICMA Senior Advisor.


GwenGwen Voelpel

Gwen’s Response:  

“Yep, you have what it takes. Charisma…bah. You are committed to public service and your role in preserving the community’s assets. That’s all you need.

Now start with this:

1. Who are your internal advocates? Of course your first advocates should be the staff you work with so make sure they understand the challenge and enlist them in helping with how to attack it.

Next, you need to get your leaky pipes, new irrigation management system and other upgrades on the CIP for your city. If you can’t fix everything now, can you talk to your director about proposing a phased-in approach to solving that problem?

If the city is its own water purveyor, what does that save you? If you’re not, still, what does that save you? How long will it take to pay back that investment so you can make the case that the renovation makes good economic sense long term?

You may have natural allies in your utilities and finance areas if you figure out how it works with their core missions.

2. Who are your partners? You mention the users of your parks. Great start. You can appeal to their love of the outdoors and wanting to make sure that there is always water to play in, even if things get a little brown in non-essential areas of your park system.

But who else? Can you get a grant from a utility provider, for example? Enlist the local hardware store in installing low-flow toilets and automatic shut-off faucets in exchange for use of your beautiful arboretum for their annual recognition event? Think big. You don’t have to be a salesperson to get people on board for a good idea.

3. Who are your customers? You mention a golf course. Clearly those are people who pay for their use of your facilities. Can you increase the cost of a round of golf and let them know it’s to pay down the cost of upgrading irrigation and keeping their greens, well, green?

What are you charging for facility rentals? Parks should be accessible to all but those additional services can carry some of the freight for your upgrades.

The idea of a “big leadership thing” can be daunting but really what you need to do is harness your passion for what you do, gather good data, and employ good thinking on how you can align your mission with others’ missions to get it done. You can do it!

Background on Gwen:


KurtKurt Bressner

Kurt’s Response:  

“Oh, you do. It’s just a matter of deciding where best to lead. Mother Nature has handed you a gift. The drought is a perfect opportunity for you to develop a water saving demonstration project in one or more of the parks.

Several years ago we were in Bermuda. I was struck by all the homes with white tile roofs. First I thought they had one heck of an island-wide HOA. I asked and found out that the white roofs were, in fact, specially designed rain water collection systems for drinking water.

Step out of your comfort zone and come up with five water-collection or water saving ideas – then “test market” the one or two champs. I’ll bet you can do a beta test site for under $500 – hopefully within your purchase authority.

If not, scrounge around for some PVC pipe – the parks crew has to have a ton of the stuff. I’m not suggesting potable water but a rooftop catchment system for plants might work.

The goal is for you to demonstrate out of the box thinking with initiative. It’s a path to being noticed and appreciated.

Background on Kurt:

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