IL: Greg Stopka, Alliance for Innovation, Central Regional Director

Posted on February 25, 2014

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 Illinois

images (6)With our expanding Midwest presence, we find it appropriate to revisit the “Land of Lincoln.” So far, we’ve heard from Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park communications and social media and Randy Recklaus, Village of Clarendon Hills manager. We had hoped to add Oprah, Michael Jordan, or Abraham Lincoln to that list but fate would not have it. Luckily, we came up with the next best thing, Greg Stopka, Alliance for Innovation, Central Regional Director. Greg is a familiar name and profile picture for those of us who have participated in the Twittersations. Now we get to see if Greg can entertain for more than 140 characters, but before we do so let’s reeducate ourselves on the “Prairie State.”

A quick name association game with Illinois yields: Bartman, “Vote Early and Often”, Devil in the White City, Michael Jordan, Chicago (the band), Oprah, and the Chicago Carnage, professional inline hockey team, (ok, maybe not the last one).

images (7)We start at the top when we look at Illinois’ impact on local, state, and federal government. Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Ulysses S. Grant each have roots in the Illinois. Ronald Reagan, really? Yes, Ronald Reagan started his political career in California but is the only U.S President born and raised in Illinois.

While it’s nice to have a four presidents with roots to your state, Illinois also carries a nefarious reputation for political scandals. To refresh your memory, Blago, Jesse Jackson Jr., and George Ryan each stem from Illinois and will not be found on a state Chamber of Commerce brochure anytime soon.

If you love local government Illinois is the state for you. Illinois has more units of local government than any other state—over 8,000 in all. The basic subdivision of Illinois is like almost every other state, the county, and Illinois has 102 of these. About half of these counties, in turn, are divided into townships, which is much the same as many other Midwestern states. Finally, Illinois has a number of cities, villages, and towns commensurate with a state of its size. But these make up only about a quarter of the governmental units. Single-purpose governmental entities make up the rest.

c674b437168a62a90a7483c8902d5056With so many local governments, it’s inevitable that a number of unique/strange/odd laws exist. Here are our favorites:

  • Chicago: It’s illegal to serve liquor to the feeble-minded.
  • Eureka: A man with a mustache may not kiss a woman.
  • Evanston: Bowling is forbidden.
  • Normal: It is against the law to make faces at dogs.
  • Springfield: “Dwarf-tossing,” is outlawed in bars.
  • Zion: It is illegal for anyone to give lighted cigars to dogs.


Greg Stopka


Central Regional Director at Alliance for Innovation

Education: Augustana College, Bachelors of Arts, Political Science and Business Administration and University of Kansas, Masters, Public Administration

Experience: Assistant to the City Administrator, City of Yuma and Management Intern, City of Yuma, Budget Intern, City of Olathe

Published Works: Innovation Edge, Going Farther, Digging Deeper

Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter

Background Check on Greg

download (5)Greg Stopka is the Central Regional Director with the Alliance for Innovation, a community of local governments testing, discovering, and accelerating the adoption of new ideas through knowledge-sharing, organizational development, networking, and research. As Regional Director with the Alliance, Greg works directly with over 80 forward-thinking local governments, improving their culture through the adaption and adoption of emerging practices in local government.

Greg received his MPA from the University of Kansas and has roughly five years of local government experience. Before working for the Alliance, he worked as the Assistant to the City Manager in Yuma, AZ and in the budget office in Olathe, KS.

Background Check on Alliance for Innovation

Connect: Facebook, Twitter, and the World Wide Web

The Alliance for Innovation is an international network of progressive governments and partners committed to transforming local government by accelerating the development and dissemination of innovations.  They seek out innovative practices, challenge existing business models, exchange knowledge, and provide products and services that help our members perform at their best.  Together with partners, International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and Arizona State University (ASU), they promote excellence in local government and build a community of practice in local government innovation.

At the 2007 Transforming Local Government (TLG) Conference, the former Innovation Groups, ICMA and ASU partnered to establish the new Alliance for Innovation.  ASU was selected as the research partner to expand the research capability of the Alliance for Innovation.  Click to read the History of the Alliance for Innovation.  The Alliance delivers new approaches to research, innovation and the development of best practices.  We bring together the best local government practitioners in the country along with private-sector partners and academic scholars.

Lightning Round

download (8)

Best advice from your parents:

Don’t burn bridges because you never know when someone will come back into your life

Just because people are different does make them wrong; always looks for common ground similarities

Learning doesn’t stop with school, work or age, it’s something that must happen every day.

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

The Beatles, Pink Floyd, but really I appreciate any kind of musical talent


(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……….leave the world a better place than when I found it.

Four most influential books in your (4)


All the Kings Men

The Bible

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership

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

  • Jesus and Muhammad (a panel discussion)
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Thomas Jefferson (but really all the founding fathers)

Describe the inside of your car. Simple, hopefully clean, with a couple things left in the back seat

What’s the meaning of life? Aligning your natural talents with a civic need to make the world a better place

Q & A with Greg


Greg and Ben McCready, ELGL Midwest co-founder and Rock Island (IL) assistant to the city manager, both graduated from Augustana College. Augustana College is a private liberal arts college in Rock Island, Illinois, and enrolls approximately 2,500 students.

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

I don’t work in local government in my state but I’d describe the Alliance local government as:

  • Inclusive leadership and humble
  • Collaborative and risk tolerant
  • Reality-focused and results driven

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 was 12, I recall my dream job was a tie between being a professional basketball player (the Chicago Bulls won their 4th championship that year) and being president of the United States.  Once I realized my “skills” on the basketball court probably weren’t strong enough, the political side took over.  While in college, I served 2 years as student government president with a political science and business majors but had no idea what to do with them.  I flirted with a political career through internships, but ultimately decided politics wasn’t the best route to improve the community.   One day, my public administration professor decided not to teach the planned lesson and instead talk about city management.  I was hooked.  I abandoned political aspirations and began applying for MPA programs.  My first local government job was working in the budget office for the City of Olathe, KS as an intern.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

Being part of the Leadership ICMA Class of 2015download (9)

Being hired as the Central Regional Director with the Alliance for Innovation where I’ve been able to help local government build more innovative culture. I’ve created new and innovative networking opportunities for Alliance members encouraging innovation and collaboration with some of the most innovative local governments in the industry.

Assigned and responsible for overseeing the Yuma U.S. Census Complete Count Committee to plan and implement local outreach efforts; the City saw a 10% increase in respondents from the 2000 Census.

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

When I first started with the Alliance, I was eager to be involved in anything to help make my mark.  However, the lesson is when you are in a new position take your time to learn where your strengths lie and how they can best align and help the organization improve instead of blindly jumping in.  You will be successful and adjust quicker.

images (4)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?

Yes, to this day, my grandmother in addition to many strangers on airplanes think I’m a city planner.

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

I believe the main reason for the lack of understanding is that most local governments have a culture where the citizens view themselves and the work they do as separate from government.  As Bob O’Neill, Executive Director ICMA likes to say, they have a vending machine mentality with their local government where they pay taxes to receive services.  This paradigm has to change.  In order to improve the reputation of local government, the city should identify the talent in the community and have them, not staff, solve the problems.  Moving staff to more of a facilitator and guide will reframe the way citizens view their role with the local government but also their community.

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

I do every chance I get.  Most people in our generation want meaning and purpose in their work.  The federal government is strangled by partisan politics and broke; state governments are just broke.  There is no better place to make a meaningful impact than local government.

download (10)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.

What position or role in the organization would best utilize your strengths and personality?

I already know what you have done from your resume. What I’d like to see is what you will bring to this organization and ideas you have for improvement.  This question helps me know that you care about the organization in addition to what you have done as well as identifies your potential for creativity and innovation.

After learning about the ideas you have for improving local government, I’d ask how you would get there.  It’s great to have ideas but without action they are just theoretical exercise.

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

Mark Watson, former City Administrator of Yuma, AZ

Karen Thoreson, current president of the Alliance for Innovation

The Board of the Alliance for Innovation (all of them)

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will…………have transitioned from a service provider to more of a facilitator of community resources, building capacity to meet community outcomes.

What question(s) should we have asked you?chris-traeger-certain

  • Favorite Parks and Recreation and character and why…
  • Why you choose administration over politics?

Supplemental Reading

50 Nifty Profiles

images (1)


Close window