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 Ohio
The 50 Nifty has arrived in the Buckeye State, the ultimate battleground state. Unfortunately, the state has not placed workers at the border to hand out those delicious chocolate covered buckeyes that we love so much. But we digress and before we hear from Jim Lenner, Johnstown (OH) village manager, here’s a brief primer on O-HI-O.
The first thing to know is the state has a lot of nicknames – The Mother of Presidents, Birthplace of Aviation (which North Carolina would argue with), and The Heart of It All (which is our least favorite of the nicknames).
Ohio has sent seven of its native sons (Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding) to the White House. All seven were Republicans. Virginia native William Henry Harrison, a Whig, resided in Ohio. Ohio is the only state that has voted for the winning Presidential candidate in each election since 1964, and in 33 of the 37 held since the Civil War. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.
When it comes to pop culture, Ohio has brought us the “Mistake by the Lake”, WKRP in Cincinnati, John Glenn, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Rocks, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, popular singers from Ohio include Dean Martin, Doris Day, The Isley Brothers, Marilyn Manson, and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- Clinton County: Any person who leans against a public building will be subject to fines.
- Marion: You cannot eat a doughnut and walk backwards on a city street.
- Paulding: A policeman may bite a dog to quiet him.
- Youngstown: You may not run out of gas.
Johnstown (OH) Village Manager
Education: Masters Degree in Public Affairs from Park University and Bachelors Degree from Muskingum University
Experience: Planner, Warrenton, VA and Planner, Licking County
Background Check on Jim
Jim was appointed as Village Manager of the Village of Johnstown in December of 2010. Previously, he served as Johnstown’s Village Planner. Jim received his masters degree in Public Affairs from Park University in 2011 and his bachelors degree from Muskingum University in 2003. He also has worked for the Licking County Planning Commission and the Town of Warrenton, Virginia. Jim is an active board member for Grow Licking County and Licking County United Way. He also serves on the Licking Memorial Health Systems Development Council. He and his family reside in Johnstown.
The Village of Johnstown is located in western Licking County in Ohio and has a population of 4,763. The Village of Johnstown has a quaint, ‘‘small-town America’’ vibe. Johnstown was the home of William A. Ashbrook, an American businessman, newspaper publisher, and Democratic politician from Ohio.
The two major state highways of Route 62 and Route 37 intersect the center of the community. Johnstown offers a quick and easy commute to the State Capitol of Columbus (30 minutes), to Newark, the county seat (25 minutes), to the City of Mount Vernon (35 minutes), and to the City of Delaware (30 minutes). The Port Columbus International Airport is approximately 25 minutes from Johnstown. In addition, Interstate 71 and Interstate 70 are easily accessed from our community.
Johnstown is also home to several corporate offices, including Tech International, Thirty-One Gifts, Atrium, Star Pizza Box and the Kroger Company.
Best piece of advice from your parents.
Always be nice to anyone no matter how they treat you. You never know when you may need assistance.
In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?
Alabama and/or Rolling Stones
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……. Visit Europe specifically Germany.
Most influential books in your life. Good to Great by Jim Collins
If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?
Martin Luther King Jr.
Vincent van Gogh
Describe the inside of your car.
Depends on my schedule; cluttered if busy, clean if I have time.
What’s the meaning of life?
To live each day like it is the last.
Q & A with Jim
Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.
- Shrinking funding from state government to local governments
- Innovative and cost sharing programs starting to become formalized even though its happened for years.
- Able to adapt to changing political and environmental situations
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 dream job as a 12 year old was to work for the US Coast Guard. There was a station in my hometown and I grew up on the water. I thought being on the water and serving my Country was the best of both worlds.
My first local government job was for the Town of Warrenton, Virginia (Washington, DC metro area) as a development planner. I worked with developers on commercial, residential and industrial developments to ensure they met the Town’s standards.
I ended up in local government because of two internships during my undergraduate education. I loved how I could help better a community and make a difference in peoples lives.
- After my appointment the Village was faced with three large projects that were delayed so long the funding sources were threatening pulling the funding. I was successful in working with my staff and the funders to keep the projects on the table and have successfully finished two and will finish the third next year.
- Becoming part of a five million dollar infrastructure project that opened over 1,100 acres for manufacturing development.
- Becoming a Village Manager at the age of 30.
We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.
Documentation is important when making decisions. I often made decisions early as a Manager that I did not properly document and was called out down the road.
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?
I am often compared to the Mayor. Explaining the form of government we operate under takes time and is worth every minute. There is an educational component to ensuring our residents understand the Council/Manager form of government. I equate the Village Manager to a CEO of a company and that helps clear the problem.
How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?
Most often local government workers are thought as “public servants.” While this is partially true we need to promote ourselves as public partners. We cannot complete our jobs without input and assistance from the public we serve. We need to do a better job promoting a collaborative effort more than just taking complaints and deciding on solutions in a vacuum at city hall.
Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?
I would. There is a satisfaction of providing a service to people that need your help.
Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impress.
Ask questions. I have realized an important part of any hiring process is a dialogue between the interviewers and the applicants. Sometimes the best information comes from a conversation more than the question/answer portion of the interview.
Don’t act like you know more than you do. I’ve seen people exaggerate in interviews and cannot produce when hired. It’s a bad situation for both the employee and employer.
Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.
- Former Director of the Licking County Planning Commission Jerry Brems
- Various central Ohio city managers.
(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be ………… Even more efficient in providing quality services to our residents.
What question(s) should we have asked you? Should you live and work in the same community?
Yes (if feasible in today’s housing market). It shows you care about your community and that you have a stake in the long term success of the community. Items passed by legislation or other means will have a direct effect on you as much as any other resident.
50 Nifty Profiles
- SD: Robert W. Wilson, Minnehaha County, Assistant Commission Administrative Officer
- IL: Greg Stopka, Alliance for Innovation
- WI: Kevin Lahner, City of Burlington, City Administrator
- MO: Andy Morris, City of Moberly, City Manager
- WI: Andy Pederson, Village of Bayside, Village Manager
- AL: Sam Gaston, City of Mountain Brook, City Manager
- CO: Robb Kolstad, Management and Budget Director, City of Thornton
- OK: Larry Stevens, City of Edmond, City Manager
- FL: Lee Feldman, City of Fort Lauderdale, City Manager
- GA: Peggy Merriss, City of Decatur, City Manager
- MO: Jennifer Gray, City of Des Peres, Assistant City Administrator
- NE: Larry Burks, City of Bellevue, Assistant City Administrator
- TX: Amy Buckert, City of Balcones Heights, City Administrator
- NC: Eric Peterson, Town of Hillsborough, Town Manager
- MD: Laura Allen, Town of Berlin, Town Administrator
- 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
- NY: Jay Gsell, Genesee County, County Manager
- SC: Katherine Hendricks, City of Pickens Administrator
- CO: Tim Gagen, Breckenridge Town Manager
- UT: Rick Davis, West Jordan City Manager
- WA: Doug Schulze, Bainbridge Island City Manager and WCMA President
- IA: Geoff Fruin, City of Iowa City, Assistant to the City Manager
- CT: Roger Kemp, Former City Manager and Current President, Kemp Consulting
- AR: Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator
I’m the co-founder and executive director of ELGL. I love my job. Other things I love: local government, my family, my dog Michael Jordan, sandwiches, naps, books, and skee-ball.