We prepare for the ELGL & ICMA joint event at the ICMA Conference by getting to know attendees through their responses to four simple questions. Respondents will describe the current state of local government, their mentors, ways to strengthen local government, and of course, their dream six-pack. Link: Raise Your Hand If You’re Going “Back to the Future” with ELGL and ICMA.
Jason Escareno (Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter) is a servant leader driven by a curiosity to understand what makes successful cities. He has been mentored by the city of Grand Rapids and the Michigan Local Government Management Association. Jason has wide experience working with both elected and appointed officials in state and local governments.His areas of expertise include municipal finance and budgeting, audit preparation, deficit elimination, taxation and fiscal policy, public policy, intergovernmental revenue sharing, tax increment financing and economic development.
Q & A with Jason
1. Name your career mentors.
Al Vanderberg from Michigan and John Maltbie from California—two of the greatest county administrators in the profession. Greg Sundstrom of Grand Rapids Michigan and Christine Burns from Spring Lake Michigan—who both are dealing with huge challenges and responding with innovation and collaboration. I have to put Ted Gaebler here too, who I had the chance to meet last year. I have a long list of mentors who I bother on a monthly basis. I think the important thing is to have time with them and ask those difficult questions, ask for advice—if you go into this with a gunslinger attitude you will crash and burn—understand things before you try to change them. I can’t stress enough the mentors who have helped me realize that.
2. Describe the current state of local government.
Local government is making a strong resurgence after a really rough recession. The lessons learned are making managers consider their municipality’s financial arrangements long-term, which is a good thing. I think sometimes in the effort to get to yes, cities commit the fallacy of forfeiting their ability to remain flexible into the future. Coming from Michigan which had over a dozen school districts and cities in State receivership, and Detroit too, and then going to the San Francisco bay area and seeing the huge unfunded liabilities they have really helped me place a context on local government. There is huge disconnect between the way things were and the way they are now—I don’t think any city feels immune to the business cycle anymore. Cautious optimism is the best way I can describe it.
3. During her presidency, Bonnie Svrcek encouraged ICMA members to do “Just One Thing” for the organization. What’s ” one thing” we can do to strengthen local government?
Volunteer. And not as an afterthought, but as a core of who we are. Give of ourselves beyond what we are asked. We have a huge need in cities for community organizing to solve social problems. By default, we all should be very adept at this sort of work, but it’s not asked of us. We have the tools to help empower our citizens and help them organize their ideas. Create energy and fill up all your empty seats at the city council meeting. And embrace active participation. I guess that’s more than “just one thing.”
4. In keeping with the beer tasting theme, tell us what we’d find in your ideal six pack.
Oberon, made in Michigan. Often served with an orange slice. It has hints of currants and nutmeg. Simply the best.