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Podcast: The First 100 Days as a New City Manager with Tanisha Briley, Gaithersburg, MD

Posted on April 9, 2021


Tanisha Briley - GovLove

tanisha briley

Tanisha Briley
City Manager
City of Gaithersburg, Maryland
LinkedIn | Bio


Leadership lessons. Tanisha Briley, the City Manager of the City of Gaithersburg, Maryland, joined the podcast to talk about her first 100 days on the job. She shared how she prioritized her time and focus as well as how she approached change management in a high performing organization. Tanisha talked about what it was like to take over a leadership position virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also discussed her career path and her time as City Manager of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Host: Lauren Palmer

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Episode Transcription

Lauren Palmer  00:08

Coming to you from Kansas City, Missouri, this is Gov love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, we engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Lauren Palmer, a Gov Love co-host and the Director of Local Government Services for the Mid America Regional Council. Today, my guest is to Tanisha Briley, City Manager of the city of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Today we are visiting with Tanisha about her first 100 days in the role of city manager and other hot topics, including community policing, racial equity and economic development. Tanisha, welcome the Gov Love!

Tanisha Briley  00:43

Thanks, Lauren. It’s great to be here with you. And you know, as a former Treager Award winner, I am excited to be on with ELGL.

Lauren Palmer  00:53

Well, that’s awesome. Congratulations on being a Treager Award winner, we are excited to have the opportunity to showcase you and your awesome Treager Award winning talents to our ELGL, Gov Love community. So let’s start with a lightning round. Our first question, as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Tanisha Briley  01:16

An optometrist until I realized that the smell of blood is something I can’t tolerate. So then I decided I was going to become a quote, businesswoman.

Lauren Palmer  01:28

Where’d you go wrong? Going into the public sector? 

Tanisha Briley  01:32

Yeah, exactly. I realized that my values weren’t necessarily aligned with the private sector. So I did take all the best parts, I think of the private sector to bring them here to the public sector.

Lauren Palmer  01:46

Well, we’re so glad he did. Of course, I’m kidding. Local government is where it’s at. And I’m so glad you found your way to public sector life instead of the private sector. So our next question, what was your first concert?

Tanisha Briley  02:03

Michael Jackson at Muni Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. I was five years old and an absolute awe.

Lauren Palmer  02:11

Oh my gosh, I’m super jealous. So I don’t want you to have to date yourself here. But what tour was that? Like? Do you remember any of the songs or the dance moves?

Tanisha Briley  02:23

Oh, yeah, it was the thriller tour.

Lauren Palmer  02:26

Oh, my gosh, yeah, that’s awesome. It

Tanisha Briley  02:28

It was, it was pretty amazing. I, I had visions of it. Right? It just remember not being able to see because everyone was much taller than I was at five. So I was on a chair. And I do remember mom sort of trying to make sure I didn’t slip it to the, to the whole of the seat. But I just remember a lot of pyrotechnics, right, a lot of lights, and just being able to see him dance in person. It was really exciting. I was a huge fan growing up. And so that was a big deal for me.

Lauren Palmer  03:04

That’s very cool. Very cool that your mom let you have that experience. Like,

Tanisha Briley  03:10

Yeah, yeah. I know, right? She’s a progressive mom. And the reason I am what I am today, so gotta love her. 

Lauren Palmer  03:18

Great. Shout out to Mom, I love it. Okay, and then our final question. We know city managers don’t get a lot of time off, but describe for us your perfect day off.

Tanisha Briley  03:31

That one’s actually pretty simple. 78 degrees, Sunny, poolside, with a book and something liquid inside of a coconut.

Lauren Palmer  03:43

I gotta say that sounds pretty perfect. And hopefully we’re gonna have some days like that in the future. The weather’s gonna turn a little nicer.

Tanisha Briley  03:52

I am hoping so. Right? And if I can’t travel, then I am happy to just have that coconut drink on the patio of my apartment.

Lauren Palmer  04:00

Yeah. Nice picture. It sounds wonderful. Okay, well, thanks for responding to our lightning round questions so we could get to know you a little bit better. And now we will move on with our interview. So, to start, just share with us about your career path and how you landed in the position you have now in gaithersburg.

Tanisha Briley  04:20

Well I told you that my my dreams of becoming an optometrist were foiled early on, realized the smell of blood and the sight of blood was just not something that was going to work for me. You know, I seriously I am. I come from very humble beginnings. And my early life from birth on probably was shaped directly by local programs, services, people. And as I grew up, you know, going into the sort of tween and preteen teen it became very clear to me the positive impact that these people who had chosen public service had on my life. And I knew I wanted to find a way to give back to the community. And then, you know, this dream of, quote, business woman comes along. And that was really influenced by what I perceived to be pretty powerful women walking around downtown Cleveland, where I’m from, with their briefcases and their suits. And I just felt they were important, and I thought they made a lot of money, and I could use that money to help build my community. So it was, you know, some really great experiences in undergrad that kind of helped me start to shape this public service career and what that would mean, for me, I was studying business, and did find myself very much more intrigued and passionate about some of the elective courses that I was taking, and more connected to service and helping people. So I pursued a internship after my undergraduate career to kind of try on what is this public service mean? And at that time, I really only knew that you could be an elected official, right, you could be the mayor of Cleveland, or you could be the governor of the state of Ohio. So I got an internship at the State House working for an Ohio senator to kind of try it on and see if that’s what I wanted to do. I really enjoy working there. I enjoy that experience. Incredibly, but what was most sort of salient for me was I enjoy the role of a staffer. I was not at all attracted to the elected officials role I I wanted to be in a position to support the elected official, and thought that I had made the most impact sort of working in my Senator’s district, helping with the residents in his district solve problems on the ground, you know, really making a real difference for them, versus the sort of what I viewed as shouting matches on the floor of the Senate. You know, where not much was getting done on a lot of policy gridlock. So I kind of started to turn my sights to sort of the staffer role at that time. And I would say it all came together for me in graduate school, when I decided to get a Master’s in Public Administration. And my first class just happens to be taught by the great Sy Murray, who’s a living legend among us, one of the early black city managers, who taught my intro to public administration course and introduced me to the field of city management. For me, it was this incredible marriage of like, all the things I loved about business and organizations and operations with this means to an end this this end of public services, this end of making communities better. So after graduate school, I apply for the ICMA fellowship, I sort of have this track record, as you can see, so far of wanting to try things on first before I fully commit. So I was offered a role in Davenport, Iowa, and moved there for my fellowship, stayed there, that organization for just over seven years, moving up through the ranks of it, I started in the city manager’s office and left as Assistant City Administrator. And, you know, I just I think it’s the most rewarding career. You know, I really think what we do is is incredibly important, and it’s important that we have solid, administrators, managers, local government professionals, that are really doing the work of making and shaping communities.

Lauren Palmer  09:03

Well, thank you for sharing that story with us. You were definitely more focused on mission and purpose as a young person that I was but you also reminded me of how much work we have to do to help mission minded young people find their way until local government it sort of often takes a backseat to state and federal government roles and you had that experience of working in the State House. So appreciate you sharing a little bit of your story with us.

Tanisha Briley  09:32

I completely agree with that, I think nonprofit as well. I think we lose a lot of mission orientated young folks to nonprofit and honestly, in graduate school, that’s where I thought I was gonna do, become a nonprofit exec. And, you know, city management is just this amazing career opportunity that too many of us aren’t familiar with or even understand. So hopefully, we can continue to get the word out.

Lauren Palmer  10:01

Great, well tell us about the community that you’re serving now. Tell us a little bit more about the City of Gaithersburg.

Tanisha Briley  10:08

Sure, sure. So Gaithersburg is a truly special community. It’s Maryland’s third largest and one of the state’s fastest growing communities. We also boast that we are one of the most diverse cities in the country, and the most diverse small city in the country. We have an incredible professional staff of about 420-25 full time, people, a budget of 70 million and a population, it’s about 70,000, a little over 70,000, and continuing to grow. So beyond the obvious attributes of the city’s location, being so close to the nation’s capital, its diversity, reputation for exceptional leadership and governance, I was really excited to come to Gaithersburg because of what’s on the horizon, as the community continues to grow and progress. And we need to find creative ways to preserve the best parts of our past, moving forward to the future. So I’m really looking forward to what’s on the horizon for this community and working with everyone to achieve our dream.

Lauren Palmer  11:21

Okay, great. Well, we are eager to hear a little bit more about what’s on the horizon, too, and the work that you’re doing in your community. And I’m just going to frame our conversation a little bit. This month, President Biden is coming up on his first 100 days in office and the first 100 days have become a milestone for new leaders to mark early accomplishments and set the tone for their administration. So I wanted to turn that discussion to the local level. And Tanisha, you started your role as city manager in September of 2020. And crossed that 100 day mark right after the first of the year. So I want to hear a little bit about your experience early in your time as city manager, what priorities Did you set for your first 100 days in City Hall?

Tanisha Briley  12:06

You know, honestly, I think they would be the priorities that hopefully any new, any new manager, any new administrator would set, I was guided mostly by the nine goals that the mayor and city council outlined for me for my first year. And most of those goals were actually related to building internal and external relationships, and getting to know the organization and the community. So I have spent a lot of time doing that and investing time in that. And of course, the other pieces of those nine goals included the again, getting a handle on the city’s budget, prioritizing services, reviewing, you know, our organizational structure, policies, programs, we have a couple really big projects going on, including the renovation and construction of a new police station, and Mayor and City Council meeting chambers. So that was already underway. But it’s a huge investment for the city, one of its biggest projects on its own for quite a while. And then we have a really amazing opportunity to redevelop a dying mall, which it’s not hard to find those these days, as retail has shifted dramatically over the last few decades, we have one of those here in Gaithersburg and trying to figure out the foundation to redevelop that parcel of land, which will probably be the greatest redevelopment opportunity that this community will see in quite some time. And so those were sort of the nine goals that the mayor and council laid out for me to pursue. And that’s really what I’ve been focused on in that first 100 days and beyond.

Lauren Palmer  14:02

Great, so a lot of big projects there. And of course, we know for much of that time, in your first 100 days, you weren’t actually in City Hall. How did your approach shift since you entered a new leadership role in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Tanisha Briley  14:18

You know, let’s see, I think my style needed to shift a bit. If I’m being completely honest, I think that I truly believe it’s hard to it’s hard to practice. I say it a lot. But I do try to practice that, you know, you need to be the manager that the community needs and that the organization needs and sometimes that changes over time. So certainly moving in the middle of a pandemic and trying to get to know a community and an organization virtually, has has has its challenges. I tried to overcome them by being as accessible as possible. You know, I still There’s an element of distance between me and the staff, for example, because no matter how many times you meet virtually won’t ever really replace that face to face, but I do try my best to supplement by being as available and accessible as possible. I have had a meeting, either in a group setting or in a one on one setting with just about every single employee in the organization, I have regular standing meetings with not just the leadership team, but subgroups of the leadership team, different departments, some that are project based focus that way, regular meetings, of course, with the mayor and city council. I’ve reached out to to establish either just a welcome meet and greet kind of meeting with community leaders, non-profit groups, I try to tag along with my staff to things that they’re doing, whether it’s a webinar in their particular field, you know, something for planning or something for HR, and attend those with them, virtually of course, so that we can have more things to talk about where there’s no more sort of drop by the office and talk and chat anymore, we now will have these things in common that you know, yes, I attended the How To Avoid Retaliation seminar for employees, because I wanted to be able to talk to the HR team about it, and about their experience. So really trying to connect in that way, as much as possible. It’s all scheduled, you know, I think we all miss the organic connectivity that happens when you’re working in the same space with people. But we’ve just had to manage through that. I think the other thing for me that I’ve been very conscious of coming to a new organization, it’s a very stable organization, and community, very well run. So there was nothing broken, that needed to be fixed. And I continue to remind myself of that, as I came across things that I may have wanted to tweak or change altogether. And really kind of put that into perspective of where we are as an organization mentally, where we are as people mentally as we all sort of deal with the issues that have come with the pandemic, both professionally and personally. So almost everything that I do, I’m asking it myself, we’re trying to be within this framework or lens of, you know, is it that important that if this causes disruption, that that disruption is okay, to kind of add to our plate right now, considering the, you know, the amount of disruption that we’re already experiencing? Sometimes the answer to that question is yes. And we have to forge ahead, make that change or, you know, tweak that process or tell a staff person no, or, you know, sometimes it’s, you know, that that thing can wait, and maybe not even being able to fully assess it. Because what I’m experiencing is really this vacuum of the COVID experience, and not necessarily how that plays out in real life. So, always also kind of reminding myself of that, you know, am I experiencing this performance? Am I able to evaluate it fairly? Because it’s been hampered in some way by COVID? And do I really understand that before I need to make a change?

Lauren Palmer  18:34

So you talked a lot about how you utilized scheduled meetings, are there any new strategies that you learned for getting to know the staff and organization?

Tanisha Briley  18:46

I think, you know, honestly, Lauren, everything is scheduled these days. You know, I do think that trying to help let them see more of my personality come through, which is hard to do, virtually, by, you know, being in both formal and informal spaces with them. So that’s, you know, joining the meetings early, so that I can participate in some of the chit chat that happens ahead of time and encouraging that and helping people understand it’s okay to, you know, talk about personal things, because that actually would have happened if we worked in the office and it’s not happening as much now. Engaging in those kinds of things with them, employee engagement pieces, I show up for the retirement parties, probably more so than I would have in the past just trying to be in different spaces with the staff and doing that in the community as well as, attending as many virtual events as possible.

Lauren Palmer  19:54

Is there any other advice that you would give to someone in a new leadership role about important actions to take in those first 100 days?

Tanisha Briley  20:04

I think, you know, reading, and I know this is probably in a step by step somewhere. So hopefully I’m giving some real life validation to whatever you may have read in a textbook or ICMA article, you know, really getting to know the facts and the people. So read as much as you can about the organization, review, dive deep into the policy manuals, but talk to people, listen to them. I do a ton of that, because I recognize that what I’m experiencing of them is, it’s not only skewed by COVID, but if there were not a pandemic, you know, it’s it’s only what you can see through your framework. And it’s important to understand where the staff is coming from and with that history is and how it applies to whatever change that you’re trying to make. To get a full assessment before you dive in and make changes, I think, having the benefit of being in my second city manager role. This one’s a little bit different pace, we’re the first organization I joined, had, you know, we were facing just a myriad of crisis coming out of the woodwork, some were planned, some were not. And there was just no time to, to really evaluate and take our time to be deliberate, and build relationships with the staff first. So I’m able to do that this time. And I’m seeing the difference in how quickly you can build trust. And you can learn things with, when you don’t have, you know, major crises coming out at you all the time and having to make decisions so quickly. Right, when things are running smoothly. It’s really about understanding what motivates people what’s, what are their pain points, you know, where are the challenges? Where are they most excited about doing? And finding ways to enhance that, while you know, keeping your eye on the long term vision and figuring out you know, the path to get us to what that vision is going to be.

Lauren Palmer  22:14

So you have adapted your style to work in a COVID-19 climate when we get the post vaccine all clear, what are the top three meetings or visits that you want to do that you haven’t been able to do while on pandemic lockdown?

Tanisha Briley  22:32

Yeah, I you know what, the very simple things like being able to go to lunch with my team, or, you know, there’s administrative, the administrative assistants day is always the day before my birthday, so I never forget it. So my administrative assistants are always hopefully happy about that, even just being able to grab coffee, with with someone, particularly with the staff that I feel like I’m bonding with, but it also feels, you know, like, there’s still a little bit of distance there. So I really do look forward to being able to meet in person with the leadership team. And then on on the sort of more fun side of things, Gaithersburg is known for incredible events. There’s a huge event, probably three or four times a year, and then there’s, you know, sort of monthly smaller events that are occurring all the time. It’s a very celebratory community. And I’ve not had a chance to experience any of that. So whatever our first in person COVID, you know, COVID restriction free event is, I think it may be October fest. So I am really excited about that. And having an opportunity to really experience the Gaithersburg events and all the work that goes into that, that my team puts in and the community comes out and you just really start to feel like I’m a part of this, this community.

Lauren Palmer  24:11

So I want to go back to something that you said in an earlier question. I’m really intrigued by the way you described, assessing the organizational culture and cataloguing needed changes, but really being thoughtful about when to implement changes. So what criteria do you apply to make decisions about the pace of change and the sequencing of priorities?

Tanisha Briley  24:37

I think it’s a it’s an equation for me this balance, I guess, trade off, if you will, of urgency and outcome. So, I am a problem solver by nature, I tend to see problems and potential solutions. I use sort of forward thinking and a planning kind of mode, which means I’m always sort of picking up on problems. And not everything is a major problem or major issue. But you know, I’m always sort of picking up on those things. And to act on them is really about, you know, understanding where where we are. It could be at that moment, it could be at that, you know, that particular week, or where we are overall. And if the outcome that I desire and think that we will get to is worth whatever disruption, it will cause. And so sometimes, you know, the answer to that is yes, I have made significant changes to the budget process, for example, which was very difficult for, for the team. They were pretty set in this process, they were very comfortable with it. And, you know, there was a lot to manage that change, I thought was important enough, because we really needed to set the tone in and we had some financial issues that, you know, were really going to impact us if we didn’t make those particular changes. So if the outcome is worth it, and that value, that’s a value judgment that will shift for everyone. But I think the important piece is that you thought it through. And you’re not just making change for change sake, or making change, even if it’s a good change, an important change, you know, it doesn’t absolutely need to happen right now, because the outcome is absolutely you know, it’s urgent, or there’s some imminent harm or crises on the other side of it. And I think, for me, that’s been a challenge, because that’s not really my personality. I’m a driver, I move, you know, I want to move things forward, once we’ve identified the problem that’s moving forward, to throw it on a list, you know, feels like sometimes, like we’re not making progress. So I’ve had to kind of re-shift and re-think what my idea of success is, and what my idea of progress is. In some days, it’s really just making sure people don’t come apart at the seams because we’re at our wits end with COVID. And this thing, while it might seem like a great idea isn’t necessary. So it’s a value judgment, Lauren, I hope that’s helpful.

Lauren Palmer  27:26

Yeah, it is, I’m really taking it all in and thinking about how I can apply it in the context of some things that I’m working on. So that’s helpful input. Okay, I’m gonna shift gears a little bit. And before I do, I’ll just apologize in advance because I’m going to make a shameless plug to frame my next question. But a few weeks ago, we did another Gov love episode featuring work by the city of Mesa, Arizona economic development, and their partner Cahoots to support small business recovery, particularly for minority owned businesses. So if you haven’t had a chance to listen to that episode, yet, Gov Love listeners, please go back and find it. It was a really good one. But one of our guests Jaye O’Donnell talked about a resource tug of war between working with major industry employers and supporting small businesses. So I’d like to hear more about your experience with that in Gaithersburg. I know that Gaithersburg is growing as a major biotech center, but also trying to foster a strong small business community and how do you balance those two interests?

Tanisha Briley  28:34

Yeah, I think that’s it, It’s a good question. And it’s definitely one that I think a lot of communities struggle with. And some tend to choose one or over the other. I had this really incredible experience in the community I was in before Gaithersburg, Cleveland heights, really being mostly a bedroom community with a lot of neighborhood based businesses and commercial corridors that really flooded the neighborhood, right, so a lot of service level, neighborhood service level, businesses, mostly independent, smaller, lot of mom and pop shops. And the neighborhood vitality was directly connected to that commercial districts vitality and vice versa. So really understanding the needs of small business and how we how we can support them better and differently as a city was was a skill I was able to work on in Cleveland heights. And so coming to Gaithersburg, you know, where economic development is certainly the more traditional sense. As you mentioned, Lauren, and we are a major biotech center for the state, there are five, five companies headquartered in Gaithersburg that are working on a COVID-19 vaccine, including Novavax, which is just about ready to file for there anyway. So, you know, it is a pretty huge biotech center. And I think for a very long time, and it didn’t happen accidentally, it got there because the city worked hard, the staff worked on implementing plans to build a relationship with that community, to reach out to make those connections with the real estate community that leases the spaces to these biotech centers and understanding what they need from a workforce perspective and a land use and real estate perspective. So there was a lot of time spent to build the infrastructure to get us where we are, where we’re on the map, we’re in the conversations when biotech companies from around the world are thinking about where they want to locate. And that’s fantastic. And I think we need to now leverage that success and pivot a bit to focus really on what our small businesses need. And that’s not been, has not been something that the city’s paid much attention to, in the last couple of decades, frankly. So I think the pandemic was a great teacher in that, you know, as programs were coming out from either the county, state, or federal level, I think city staff realized we didn’t even have a good database of who these businesses were in our community, let alone understand their needs. So we’re really focused right now on building a better relationship with the small business community. We’ve always been active with our chamber, who I think has the most direct connection with those communities. But it’s been more so focus, you know, from our perspective on the large fish, on the big fish. So we’re shifting our focus, making sure that we build the capacity internally to be able to serve small businesses better, we’re starting with, you know, an inventory, which is helpful this, who are the businesses, where are they located? What do they need? And a part of that conversation, Lauren, as I’m sure you had, with with Jay, is really understanding how minority owned businesses might differ. Their needs might differ from other small businesses, and how do we provide more specific support. We had just started to do some of that work in Cleveland Heights before I left, and really understanding sort of the equity issues, the legacy disparate treatment and access to capital and all those things and how they compound over time to really position these small minority owned business to not be eligible for certain programs. And and I would always ask my staff, who controls the rules for these programs? Are they are, are we funding them, then we control the rules, right. And so let’s assess how much risk we can actually take on and for what purpose. So we’re going to be doing a lot more of that in Gaithersburg. I’m very excited that I think in about a year, we’ll be able to stand up a much more effective and impactful small business support, to make sure that our neighborhoods are strong, because for me, they’re directly connected, you have to make sure that those businesses survive this, as so many of them are not.

Lauren Palmer  33:32

I promise that was not as orchestrated as it sounds, because I didn’t really know how you were going to respond to that question, but you perfectly validated what I learned from Jay and our other guest, Jenny in that other podcast that we did with the City of Mesa, because they talked about in that episode that what the city government thought their small business community needed did not really align with what their small business community actually needed. And they learned that by working in partnership with Cahoots, that had done a lot of work in their minority on business community. So and your comments kind of illustrated that as well. So I think it’s such a good reminder for Local Government Leaders that you really have to be listening to your community and your public and your stakeholders and have a true pulse on their needs in order to really respond in a way that’s going to be most meaningful for the community. So thank you for sharing your insights about how you’re doing that in Gaithersburg. So I learned something interesting in preparing for this interview that Gaithersburg has this kind of unique history of providing social services that are not typically provided at the city level. Can you share a little bit more about that for our listeners?

Tanisha Briley  34:52

Yeah, thanks for asking that question, Lauren. I, one, it’s one of the many things I think that was really exciting me attractive to me, given where I started with public service and sort of this motivation to help communities that help communities and other little girls, right, like me. And so to have this direct social service delivery mechanism at a city our size, where we have a pretty robust county operation, right. So it’s not that these services aren’t being provided, but we get to do them, I think more in a more boutique manner. If, if that makes any sense, right? We, I think, much like we were just discussing with really getting into touch with what the small business community needs and how that might differ for minority owned or women owned businesses, it’s the same in the social service delivery system. You know, if you’ve taken any public policy course, at any point in your career or your life, you’ve you’ve heard about some of the challenges in our social service delivery systems. And so being able to control that, at the city level, I think is is pretty remarkable in that the city invested in these services, my gosh, I think as late as, as early as the late 70s, where they started to build out these services. So we provide everything from direct rental assistance, and food assistance, to job training and financial management. We have a bank on Gaithersburg program where we help the unbanked get banked. We have a street, homeless, homeless services street team that is bilingual who spends time out, talking to those who are unhoused, and helping them connect to services to be housed. And we have these incredible success stories that just really fuel my passion every single day for public service. We have transition housing for those who are recovering from drug addiction, where we provide that ourselves as a city, not just connecting those residents, or those who are who are suffering from addiction to those services, we actually have our own transitional housing, where they live for two years and learn skills and get the support that they need to repair their lives and move on. And the success stories coming out of there are incredible, including many of our staff members who work in those social services programs, have, at one point been residents of our Wills Robertson house, which is where we have the transitional housing program. So I mean, these, I don’t know how many people get really excited about talking about these kind of services. I certainly do. And I love that we can have this direct impact that we control that we don’t, you know, we partner absolutely, with our nonprofit partners and with the county to enhance what we are providing in to hopefully leverage the services that they’re providing to try to create a seamless service delivery system for those in our city and beyond. So I just I think it’s remarkable, and love with the team does the success stories will bring you to tears on a daily basis. So if I’m ever having a bad day, I plan to pop over and sit and talk to one of the residents of the Wills Robertson house and re-discover you know why I do what I do. So is it is a unique, I think set of services that we provide as a city our size, and one of the things I have just found very rewarding and fascinating.

Lauren Palmer  38:49

How are you applying new knowledge about racial equity to those social services?

Tanisha Briley  38:55

You know, I think when I arrived at the city, they had started this discussion of racial equity. What we were going, you know what, what was the city going to do to address racial equity or advance racial equity in the city. And I found it interesting, but not surprising that the staff who support those services that we offer in our community services division and our homelessness division, they were already well versed and down the path in understanding racial equity and understanding how to apply the racial equity lens to the services that we provide. Making sure that you know, we are getting to the root cause. So you know, I think we we have more room to grow. So what I mean by that is a direct food assistance for example. Certainly if a family is in need of food, we need to help them get access to the food, but we go the step further, which I think is what equity is all about and trying to work with that family, work with the adults in the family. Can we get them into training programs? Can we identify sort of the root cause? And what is the package of services that we can provide? What’s the support that we can provide that helps you, you know, not need food assistance in six months or a year. So really trying to take a step back from not just providing a direct service to meet that need, but trying to understand what are the layers behind that need? What are the barriers, the real barriers that have prevented that family from advancing in our community? And really trying to figure out how do we, how do we move those barriers? And so I think we have some uncomfortable conversations coming up, because resources are not unlimited. And we need to find ways to better invest in well being and not just the direct food service, for example, right? What is the what’s the root cause? And how do we invest in that root cause to try and make that family whole?

Lauren Palmer  41:20

Well, before we wrap up, I want to rewind the clock and talk about your prior role as City Manager in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, you have an enviable accomplishment of helping reduce the crime rate by 55% during your tenure in that city. What strategies led to that success?

Tanisha Briley  41:40

I honestly think it’s a combination of community policing, so I, you know, I know these days, it sounds very cliche. But community policing and supporting youth in our community be it through the police or different programs through the police department, or other departments in the city. So you know, Cleveland Heights is about 45-46,000 residents in eight square miles. But we are, they were a suburb of Cleveland, and East Cleveland, which happens to be one of the poorest, if not the most challenged communities in our country. And so a lot of a lot of crime issues creep into the city; crime knows no order. And we were finding that, you know, the same folks were committing those crimes. And so it needed to be a two prong approach of, you know, people talk about being tough on crime, but it was clearing that case, because if we found the person who committed that robbery, or carjacking, more than likely, they were responsible for dozens of others in our community and in other communities. So, you know, really focusing our detective work, you know, being smart about identifying, and trying to use data to predict where the crime was going to occur to to, to arrest those who were responsible for it. And typically, when we got those folks off the street, you’ve you’ve cleared, not just the one thing that you’ve caught them in the act of doing, but you’ve been able to usually clear several other cases at a time. And then unfortunately, as we find in that in a lot of other communities, we were finding that these folks were young people in the prime of their life, who we all sort of feel right, we have this sort of visceral reaction that if we had just had an opportunity to support them differently, before they started to make these kinds of choices and decisions, that we can have different outcomes. And so we really focused also on investing in youth. And we I think one of the programs I’m really proud of, it was spearheaded by a council woman, who’s now a state rep in the state of Ohio, she really wanted us to have a juvenile diversion program that went beyond the basics, sort of like what we were just talking about, with our social service programs in Gaithersburg. When we arrested a young person, and that was, I think the age was 18. And under. If they were eligible for our juvenile diversion program, they went into almost a case management approach. So some some of these programs kind of function where you know, you’ve got caught shoplifting, a pack of gum from the corner store and you go to a judge and the judge you know, is scary and asks you to write a letter and apologize to the store owner. You move on with your life, well, we wanted to go deeper. And so we had a police officer who was also pursuing her PhD in in youth, I forget what, youth crime, and she really wanted to help with this program. And it was really, you know, bringing the kid in understanding what their challenges were, we engage the adults in their life. So sometimes that was a parent. Sometimes it was a family friend or a guardian. But whatever a responsible adult that was willing to work with the student and us. And we engaged them in everything from service learning to mentoring and tutoring programs to whatever that particular case needed. So it was a full case management approach. And it extended to the adults in their lives as well. Sometimes the adults needed to get connected to services. And we had a tremendous amount of success with that program. And hopefully deterring those who might in the future have made the decision to you know, advance and go sown a criminal path, and trying to, you know, deter them from that. And I would also say, you know, a shout out to the Parks and Recreation Department in Cleveland Heights, because our youth sports programs and some of the other activities that we offer, for youth really were an outlet for that age group of young people that tend to, you know, be in that decision making point in life, am I going to continue with education in doing good? Or am I going to, you know, turn to this other lifestyle, and trying to make sure that there were always options for them. So, you know, you honestly, easy part was arresting the criminals who did the bad thing, who just happened to be responsible for lots of other bad things, and the juvenile diversion program, and really getting out into the community and building better relationships with the neighborhood. So that, you know, they are willing to call us when they see something wrong so things don’t persist. So it’s lots of strategies there. But certainly all the credit goes to the police chief and the officers and the amazing folks who worked both our prosecutor and the former police officer who worked the youth diversion program, which is one, I think it’s a really good model for other cities to look at.

Lauren Palmer  47:34

I appreciate you sharing that model. And congratulations to you and others on your team for that multi departmental approach that was so successful. We’re getting to the end of our interview, I want to thank you so much for joining the Gov Love podcast Tanisha. Our final question, if you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick is our exit music for this episode?

Tanisha Briley  48:01

I love that question. Um, I’m gonna go with Jill Scott. Living Life Like it’s cold.

Lauren Palmer  48:11

I don’t think I know the song. I’m excited to learn a new one.

Tanisha Briley  48:14

It could be a new theme song for you Lauren, you should listen.

Lauren Palmer  48:18

Okay, I can’t wait to hear it. That ends our episode for today. Thanks so much to our guest Tanisha Briley. Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, you can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove, or at Twitter @GovLovePodcast. I also have some exciting news tickets for the ELGL Pop Ups are on sale soon. ELGL Pop Ups are our approach to regional conferencing, and this year are hosted virtually on May 21st of 2021. These events are a great great way to learn more about regional local government topics. Tickets are $10 for students $40 per person or $80 for an all access pass to attend any region sessions. There are also volume discounts if you want to sign up your whole team. So visit ELGLPopUps.com to save your spot. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.


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