IN: Nate Nickel, Bloomington Senior Long Range Planner

Posted on May 20, 2014

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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 others’ mistakes than yours.

Our Take on Indiana

download (2)The 50 Nifty project has landed in the Hoosier State. What do we know about Indiana? We know that is home to Pawnee, IN, the fictional setting for Parks and Recreation. We tried to land Ben Wyatt for the Indiana representative for the 50 Nifty but we only received a confused look. Luckily, we did one better. We landed Nate Nickel, Bloomington Senior Long Range Planner.

Indiana is the 38th largest by area and the 16th most populous of the 50 United States. Indiana is the least extensive state in the contiguous United States west of the Appalachian Mountains. Its capital and largest city is Indianapolis. Indiana was admitted to the United States as the 19th U.S. state on December 11, 1816.

Indiana is divided into 92 counties. As of 2010, the state includes 16 metropolitan and 25 micropolitan statistical areas, 117 incorporated cities, 450 towns, and several other smaller divisions and statistical areas.  Marion County and Indianapolis have a consolidated city-county government. Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana and its largest city. Indiana’s four largest metropolitan areas are Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville, and South Bend.

Indiana has its share of “interesting” laws which is no different than other states that we have visited.

a zazzle garlic breathBeech Grove: It is forbidden to eat watermelon in the park.

Elkhart: It is illegal for barbers to threaten to cut off kid’s ears.

French Lick Springs: All black cats to wear bells on Friday the 13th.

Gary: Within four hours of eating garlic, a person may not enter a movie house, theater, or ride a public streetcar.

Warsaw: No one may throw an ottoman across the street at their neighbor.

Our Take on Bloomington, IN

Bloomington, IN (not to be confused with Bloomington, IL or Bloomington, MN) is home to Indiana University and the epicenter of the Hoosier state. That means it is also home to the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, also known as SPEA. It’s also home to those famous lime stone quarries that the cast of Breaking Away can be seen diving into. Bloomington is known for more than the University, ambassadors such as John Mellencamp and Rex Grossman call the community home. Like all great towns Bloomington has its share of hometown festivals but a few standouts include the Little 500 (this is more of a local holiday) and Tibet Fest.


 Nate Nickel

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 Position: Senior Long Range Planner

Organization: City of Bloomington

Education: Augustana College, Bachelor of Arts, Northern Illinois University, MPA

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

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice from your parents.

They set a great example of hard work and integrity for me to follow.

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

I’d start with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, followed up by Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band.  At some point in time, Metallica would also make an appearance.  If I’m retiring, it’s going to be quite the party.

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….0

be in front-row seats on a chilly late October night and soak in the celebration that’s occurring at 1060 W. Addison Street in Chicago, Illinois.

Three most influential books in your life.

  • A Lonely Kind of War: A Forward Air Controller in Vietnam” by Marshall Harrison
  •  “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” by E.B. Sledge
  • If you Survive: From Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge to the End of World War II, One American Officer’s Riveting True Story” by George Wilson

All of these books deal with individuals that found themselves in situations that were chaotic, horrible and dangerous.  How they not only survived while serving their country, but did their jobs, often times changing history, provides a lot of inspiration and teaches many lessons, not to mention creates a lot of appreciation for what we all have today.

If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?apollo1_crew

  • George Washington
  • Oscar Goodman (former Mayor of Las Vegas)
  • Ron Santo
  • John Wayne
  • The astronauts lost in the Apollo 1 fire (Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White)

Describe the inside of your car.

You’ll most likely see two of the world’s best looking basset hounds, or at least plenty of evidence that they’ve recently been there.

What’s the meaning of life?

That is above my pay-grade.

Q & A with Nate


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

  • An early pioneer in consolidating city-county governments (Unigov in Indianapolis)
  • Not many opportunities exist for professional city managers, as the vast majority of communities in the state function under the strong mayor-council form of government.  The structure of most county governments has generally been left unchanged since the 19th Century.
  • Like many places across the nation, Indiana’s local governments are being asked to either provide more services, or maintain their current ones without any interruption, while at the same time facing static or diminishing revenue streams.

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?

BlueangelsformationpdAs a 12 year-old, my career aspirations included being the starting second baseman for the Chicago Cubs during the summer, while also commanding the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team over the winter months.  You might be surprised, but I was not able to successfully achieve the first ever dual-career in both Major League Baseball and the Defense Department.

I actually was very interested in pursuing various federal civil service careers during high school.  I was intrigued by the idea of working directly on issues facing our nation, plus the ability to be posted in various parts of the country.  From day one of entering college, I had the intention of earning a Public Administration degree to obtain a federal job.  As such, my advisor was the chair of the Public Administration Department and an absolute wealth of knowledge in the field.  It was through him, plus my Public Administration classes, that I learned much more about the options available on the local level.  Additionally, during college I held summer jobs for both a school district and a park district.  Not only did these help me pay the bills, but I was able to get more of a feel for how units of local governments function.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • Worked on a number of successful downtown enhancement and improvement initiatives.
  • Completed the City’s first ever in-depth analysis on City facilities and services.
  • Had the opportunity to guest lecture at a number of Indiana University classes regarding topics covering both planning and local government management.

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


I was fortunate to have had a great internship experience, but I didn’t maximize every opportunity that I had available to me.  Looking back at it, I should have taken more initiative in certain areas.  I could have been exposed to many more facets of local government operations this way.  However, taking charge like this can be difficult when you’re under 25 years old.  You’re new in the field, just starting out in the professional world and want to make a good impression.  I basically found myself lacking enough experience to essentially “know what you don’t know”.

If you’re either starting an internship in local government, or have just landed your first professional job, my advice is to be very aggressive in learning as much as possible.  If there is a particular field that you’re interested in, or want to learn more about something, don’t be shy.  Talk with your superiors, ask lots of questions, express your interest, find out more information and get involved.  Even if it’s only simply attending meetings at first, this will start building your exposure to areas of interest.  The more you’re involved, the more you can start learning and take advantage of future opportunities.  This kind of attitude can really help jump start your career at a very early stage.

I’d also strongly encourage you, very early in your career, to make time to speak with people in your organization, both in front-line and senior management positions.  This is especially true for those that are long-time employees.  The “war stories” that they’ll share with you will impart lessons you won’t ever learn in any MPA class, but will serve and guide you for the rest of your career.  At any chance, find ways to either job shadow or ride-along with front-line employees.  Doing so will give you an up-front, unvarnished and real world lesson in the day-to-day services your local government provides.

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 “mayor”. Has this been your experience?

This has been a common misconception the entire time that I’ve worked for local government.  Unfortunately, very few people will have any idea of what your career is.  If you enter this field, be prepared for this confusion, the inevitable charges of holding political influence to get your job and the various government jokes that often follow.

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

downloadSince we usually work behind the scenes, many of us in local government are often victims of our own success.  Almost everyone is very aware of the visible portions of their local government: the mayor, police officers, firefighters, parks and recreation, animal shelter workers, etc.  They either see these people on a daily basis, or utilize services that they provide.  For those in city management or closely related fields, it’s not typically as close of a link.  For many people, you most likely are just somebody that “works down at City Hall” and they don’t really understand what you do.

A great way to better communicate our roles as professional government administrators is to speak with as many people as possible.  Service groups, neighborhood associations, volunteer groups and people you meet throughout your daily interactions.  Same goes for your relatives and friends, too.  I also highly recommend talking about local government to schools.  No matter if you’re speaking to elementary school students or at a college class, this can be a great (and very fun) opportunity to connect with the community.  Not only does this assist with promoting the profession, but perhaps it just might inspire some students to pursue local government as their chosen career.

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

imagesTo the ones that have the right personality and outlook, yes.  It can be an exciting opportunity to have a career that directly improves people’s lives.  However, like most career fields, not everyone is suited to work in local government.  Among other traits, you especially need to have a strong sense of patience, a willingness to compromise, be able to consider different points of view and have the ability to remain professional at all times (even when the debates gets personal, and they will).

 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.


Make sure to dress professionally.  It’s always quite surprising how many people fail to do this very simple, yet important, step.

Spend some time and do your homework learning about both the community and the organization.  Based on this background, you can then ask good questions.  Not only will this show that you’re truly interested in the position, but it can also give you a better idea of what you’re potentially getting into with the job.

Probably most importantly, be yourself and answer questions honestly.  There are many times that job applicants give answers they think you want hear or avoid talking about areas in which they need to improve.  These approaches rarely impress and more importantly, can hinder the ability to meaningfully advance your career.

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

GRobinsonI give a lot of credit to Dr. Glenn Robinson, my Public Administration advisor at Augustana College.  He took the time to not only teach and explain, but also candidly discuss, the local government profession with me.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned a great deal from many different people at all levels of various organizations and sometimes from unlikely places.  My interactions with these people have often resulted in some very valuable lessons for me.  I’ve been able to follow some great examples, as well as to see things to avoid at all costs.

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

aggressive in consolidating service delivery and sharing resources, plus will continue to find new ways to innovate on a number of issues.  I’m also concerned that the council-manager form of government will be under increased scrutiny, especially in the nation’s larger cities that currently employ it.

What question(s) should we have asked you?

If you won big in Las Vegas, how would you spend the money?

Supplemental Reading

50 Nifty Profiles

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