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 Maryland
The 50 Nifty has landed in Maryland near the Eastern Shore. The state is an interesting juxtaposition, being one of the smallest states, yet one of the most populous. The state flag is becoming part of pop culture thanks to the rapid growth of Under Armor which was founded in College Park. Along with the certainty of death and taxes, there’s the certainty that any Under Armor commercial will find someway to include Maryland’s colorful state flag.
We turn to Laura Allen, Berlin town administrator to lead us through the Maryland landscape. Laura brings a fresh perspective to Maryland after spending much of her professional career in California.
Before we hear from Laura, let’s get a brief history lesson on the “Old Line State.” For starters, we’re willing to bet you’d have difficulty in naming five cities in the state. We grant you Baltimore, and you may know the capital (Annapolis), but you’d probably struggle in conjuring up three more cities. Columbia, Germantown, Silver Springs, and Waldorf follow behind Baltimore for the largest city or town based on population.
When it comes to politics and government, what do we know about Maryland? The state’s best known political figure is a Republican – former Governor Spiro Agnew, who served as United States Vice President under Richard Nixon. He was Vice President from 1969 to 1973, when he resigned in the aftermath of revelations that he had taken bribes while he was Governor of Maryland. A more recent notable from Maryland is Michael Steele who served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee and served as lieutenant governor from 2003-07.
Enough about the politicians, it time to hear about the cities and towns in Maryland and a few of the interesting laws enacted. Like every other state, Maryland has its share.
- Baltimore: It’s illegal to take a lion to the movies.
- Cumberland: Knocking stones into a public park is prohibited.
- Rockville: Persons may not swear while on the highway.
- Halethrope: Kisses longer than one second are illegal.
- Caroline County: You may not be “forecasting or pretending to foretell the future.”
Town Administrator, Berlin, MD
Education: University Nevada – Reno, BA, Political Science, Economics and University Nevada – Reno, MPA, Public Administration
Publications: Measuring Community Engagement
Background Check on Laura
Laura Allen has nearly 20 years of local government experience with an emphasis in public finance. After eight years with Colma City (CA), Laura Allen was hired in June 2013 as the new town administrator for Berlin, Maryland, a community on the state’s Eastern Shore.
Allen first joined Colma as assistant city manager in 2005. She was promoted to interim city manager in August of 2008, then officially appointed to the position in March of 2009.
She previously worked with the cities of Berkeley and Phoenix, Arizona. She is a Certified California Municipal Treasurer and a member of the 2010 Leadership ICMA class.
Background Check on Berlin
Located just minutes from Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore, Berlin is a town in Worcester County with a population of 4,485.
Berlin has starred in two major motion pictures. In 1998 Berlin was the location for the filming of Paramount’s Runaway Bride starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. In the movie Berlin became the fictional town of Hale, Maryland, Maggie’s (Julia Roberts) hometown. Main Street became a “hot” set as filming was done using many of the downtown shops, not to mention hundreds of locals as extras. Then in 2001 Berlin became “Treegap”, the fictional setting for Tuck Everlasting starring Sissy Spacek, Ben Kingsley, and William Hurt. Downtown Berlin was transported back to the turn of the century complete with dirt roads, horses and carriages, and period costumes.
- Oliver Purnell , men’s basketball coach at DePaul University
- Linda Harrison, actress
- Stephen Decatur, American Naval hero of Barbary Wars and War of 1812. Youngest Commodore in US Navy history
Best piece of advice from your parents. Attitude matters.
In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?
- Pink, U2, No Doubt in one room;
- Mumford and Sons, Adele, Kristy MacColl in another; and
- Every hot 80’s band in a third room.
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….Visit 100 countries. I’m at 48 right now!
Three most influential books in your life.
- Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter
- Wherever you go, there you are
- Ferdinand the Bull
If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?
- Albert Einstein
- Oprah Winfrey
- Malcolm Gladwell
- President Obama
Describe the inside of your car. Neat and tidy
What’s the meaning of life? Whatever you think it is!
Q & A
Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in Maryland.
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?
My private school guidance counselor was shocked to hear me say I wanted to be a private detective.
I always had an interest in politics and a belief in government as a positive force for change. My first government job was working as an intern in the Nevada State Legislature. That’s where I learned I did not want to be an elected official. After college I considered law school but my Political Science professor convinced me I’d be bored and pointed me to the MPA program. The City of Berkeley, California gave me my first local government job in 1991 as a management analyst in the budget office.
Give us your top three career accomplishments.
- As the City Manager of Colma, California I led the Town through the recession without using reserves, or laying off employees.
- At my recommendation, the Council adopted a Values-Based Code of Conduct to guide their actions and decision making.
- During my tenure, the Town completed its first Strategic Plan, Economic Development Plan and Climate Action Plan.
We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.
I wish I’d connected with a mentor (or two) earlier in my career. I have gained so much from working with the mentor I found through the Cal-ICMA coaching program in 2005. A retired City Manager, he’s been a great sounding board whose best advice was to “trust my instincts.” I’ve since realized you don’t need a formal program to help you find a mentor. I’ve been impressed by the large number of managers, assistants and department directors who happily coach when asked.
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?
Local governments can better communicate their role by engaging the community. We often only hear from residents and business owners when they are angry. Civic engagement programs help foster a more meaningful two-way dialogue and encourage a sense of ownership in the community.
Prior to my appointment as Town Administrator, Berlin, Maryland became recognized statewide for its leadership in stormwater management. Citizen engagement was and continues to be a key component in this effort. The new stormwater fee was implemented on July 1, 2013 with very few complaints.
Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?
Yes I would and I have. It’s a great way to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives.
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.
- Look the part. This will help me see you in the position.
- Know the community. I will measure your interest in and commitment to the job by how well you know my community.
- Be honest. By the time you get to me, technical ability is not the issue. I’m looking for character and fit.
Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.
- Don Blubaugh, retired City Manager of Walnut Creek, California
- Sharon Thygesen, Information Technology Manager, City of Berkeley, California
- My friends in the Leadership ICMA class of 2010
(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………Positively impacting more lives than ever.
What question(s) should we have asked you?
- If you could go back in time and do one thing over again what would it be and why?
- Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself at the beginning of your local government career?
- If you could waive a magic wand and fix one thing in local government, what would it be?
- Colma City Manager Laura Allen Leaving The Golden State
- Berlin’s New Administrator Coming From California
- Colma’s city manager no longer ‘interim’
- If you could take back one management decision you’ve made in the past two years, what would it be?
- Leadership ICMA 2010 celebrated-and graduated!
50 Nifty Project Profiles
- IL: Randy Recklaus, Village of Clarendon Hills, Village Manager
- 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