What Was I Thinking?

Posted on November 21, 2019

Shifting Gears

Today’s (West Coast) Morning Buzz is brought to you by Zach Ratkai. Connect on Twitter 

What I am reading: Current library selection chewed up by 5 month old Black Lab

What I am watching: Just finished the latest season of Letterkenny on Hulu, so I just catch a hockey game if I have time.

What I am listening to: Seb Wildblood – while I work and crank out this article. Joe Rogan Podcast for my commute.

To be honest, there have been a number of things on my mind for Morning Buzz topics.

To be more honest, I thought this was due in January.

Zach SelfieAnd to be further honest, I am writing this because a number of things happening at work have prevented me from focusing on this commitment… as well as remembering a number of things outside of City Hall such as: laundry… groceries… packing a lunch… replacing the battery in my car’s garage door opener… or matching a black belt with black shoes (oops).

For those new to meeting me, I am Zach Ratkai and I am the Administrative and Community Services Director for the City of Pasco, Washington. Does a long job title equate to a long job description? In this case, yes. I oversee Parks, Recreation, Facilities, the City Clerk, City Public Defenders’ Office, Information Services (IT), our real estate programs, and a number of large-scale regional projects such as the new construction of the animal shelter (shared with two other cities), and our new aquatic center (should the voters decide to vote yes)… oh! This isn’t for a sleepy little town either, but the fastest growing city (76,000 pop.) in the fastest growing county in Washington… so it is busy. And did I mention that I am managing a remodel of City Hall, balancing the active construction with staff placement, customer service, and making sure computers are set up? (All the while maintaining staff sanity during the project)

Previous to this, I was an Economic Development Manager with a staff of 2… I now have 35 people and a ton of seasonal employees that rotate through for our municipal pool and grounds maintenance.

Does it sound like a lot? Yes

Do I know what I am doing? Some days.

Am I crazy? Probably…

My career thus far in local government has been focused on one day becoming a city manager. Moving from land use and EcDev to administration has been a good move to diversify my career on this path. But it has not been easy. My department has a number of very diverse focuses and a number of very diverse people. Learning to balance those demands and shifts gears constantly has been an ever changing and present process over the last 14 months. Coupled with a desire to change the culture and put forth an “A” effort in everything has burned me out. I have spent the last couple months being cynical and threatening to go to truck driving school instead (now only half kidding), but something placed me in this role and I continue to show up day after day, meeting after meeting.

Being a director is more than just signing forms (as I tweeted in my first month on the job). It takes constant dedication and focus, which is hard to do when you balance family and life. Be honest with yourself, your colleagues and staff. Open yourself to help and be patient, but assertive in showing people how to help you. I tend to think I can be the hero and do everything myself and save the day. Local Government is collaborative; however, and being able to defer, delegate, and humbly ask for help is key to maintain your drive and ambition (and long-term employment). I learned all this in my first 15 years of experience in the government, but have to admit to getting a bit of a deer in the headlights look during my first year as a director.

So, Zach, does anything help?

Yes. A number of things:

  • Wake up early: I have always been more of a morning person, but find that if I get up early – no one else is up. It’s quiet. My email box isn’t active, nor is my phone. The days where I wake up and work are key to starting my day. So are the days where I walk my dogs and listen to a podcast. Same with the days I sit and sip coffee. Just having some quiet and a chance to organize helps immensely.
  • Tracking my tasks and items. Often my days are filled with meetings and little desk time. I can go from meeting to meeting and never cover the same topic or division. Often relying on memory is terrible if there is a request from the City Manager, or an idea or task. I have to jot these down… but have to make sure to use one means by which I keep track. I have tried notebooks, OneNote, but found that a paid app like Todoist (which is web-based and on both phones and laptop) provides a good clearing house to make sure things do not slip through the cracks…
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY… ASK FOR HELP! As a director, you have staff and oftentimes an assistant. I often feel I am a burden to those around me and shouldn’t bother them with things I can do… however, those things weren’t getting done. Finally, I was venting to our finance director and was flat out told I need to ask people to help me. That hit home pretty hard, and I struggle to this day to do so, but working on giving myself that permission.

With those in mind, it is hard, especially being a younger director trying to make his mark and do well. Knowing that I have a good team and can rely on them has been great.

The second year is already proving to be hard. Expectations are higher, especially the ones I have of myself. Just know that in government, there is a ton of great people out there to help.

While writing this at the last minute, I dealt with performance evaluation questions, the animal shelter project, a public records request, the city hall renovation, invoices for construction at our youth football facility, HVAC issues on the 3rd story of City Hall, and a regional sports facility study. I probably wont get a proper lunch today and I haven’t been home before 8pm all week… you know, just a normal day in a normal week.

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