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The Takeaway with Craig Prosser, Former Tigard City Manager

Posted on November 5, 2012


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One of our spiritual founders, Craig Prosser is highlighted in today’s feature. (See related link: The Takeaway with Larry Patterson.) Craig was a driving force in encouraging the formation of ELGL and communicating the new venture with the local government community. Simply put, without Craig, ELGL would not exist.

Craig had a distinguished career in the public sector which included a term as a Lake Oswego City Councilor. In Tigard, he served as the finance director before being appointed the city manager in 2005. Craig’s definition of retirement is different than most as he spends his retired days serving on the TriMet Board of Directors and City of Lake Oswego Budget Committee.

Craig Prosser

Former Tigard City Manager 

You retired as city manager of Tigard in 2011. How did you know it was time to move on?

My retirement was more the result of personal desires and goals and less thinking it was time to move on.  I had a great run at Tigard, and we accomplished a lot.  I was comfortable in my decision to leave because we had a strong organization with excellent staff, who I knew would be able to carry on without me.  I think I was also mindful of the old show business adage, “Always leave them wanting more.”

Your career spanned more than 30 years, Tell us about three experiences during your career where you felt that you were really making a difference.

  • (Easy choice)  My time as City Manager of Tigard.  We took an organization that was doing good work and moved it to the next level of excellence.  We took a community that was timid and unsure about its future, and helped it identify its own future course.  We then helped the community develop the skills and the voice to make the region listen and become an active partner in achieving those dreams.
  • My time as Supervisor of Budget and Personnel for the Oregon Department of Energy.  I came into a new position to help the Department manage its business affairs during a time of incredible growth and change. When I got there in 1977, the department had about 25 positions.  When I left three years later, the department had a staff of about 70 positions.  That was a lot of growth and a lot of change, and we had to build almost all of our systems and procedures from the ground up while still ensuring that work got done.  It was a very exciting time.
  • My time serving on the Lake Oswego City Council.  The big topic that created a lot of controversy and angst during those five years was Downtown Redevelopment.  I was a strong advocate of that, but many in the community were nervous about the change that redevelopment would bring to Lake Oswego.  Due to changes on the Council and the high level of controversy, we were unable to get redevelopment off the ground during my time on Council.  I was disappointed about that, but I later realized that my role during that period was to keep the dream alive and to keep making progress towards the goal.  That was not what I initially hoped to accomplish, but it was crucial to the success that Lake Oswego eventually had in its downtown.  Now, 12 years later, when I go to downtown Lake Oswego, I know that I played an important part in making that happen.

You served on the Lake Oswego City Council and are now serving on the Lake Oswego Budget Committee and TriMet Board, are you more demanding on staff due to your experience as a city manager or finance director?

I don’t think I am demanding of staff.  (Maybe this is a question better answered by the Lake Oswego Finance staff or the staff at TriMet!)  I think I am better at asking questions of staff because of my career.  I think I am also better at understanding their answers, helping them to expand on aspects that need more discussion, and sometimes helping to rephrase information to help other board members and the public understand important aspects of the issue.  Given my work experience, I always try to be mindful of my role as a board member and not to intrude upon the role of the staff or manager.  And knowing what it is like to sit on the other side of the table, I always try to be respectful of staff.

Give our members and readers two skills that we should work on to make ourselves more attractive to potential employers.

  • (And numbers 2 through 9).  Learn to communicate information clearly, simply, and confidently.  As staff, we are subject matter experts, and I think we feel an obligation and a need to fully inform our elected officials and citizens.  Unfortunately, as a result, we usually go into far too much detail, rather than focusing on key pieces of information needed for them to make decisions.  It is okay to have folks ask questions and to ask for more information.
  • Staff should never, ever just read a PowerPoint presentation to folks.  Very few people today (and even fewer elected officials) are illiterate.  Don’t insult people’s intelligence by reading information already presented to them in written or PowerPoint form.  Hit key points and move on.
  • I was fortunate to take a class at a National League of Cities Conference on how to deal with the media.  I learned key principals to communicate with the press: always have at least three talking points, always answer the question, but have key “bridge phrases” such as “but the important point is…,” “we should remember that…,” etc. to help bridge back to your key points, write down 10 questions you do not want to answer and prepare answers to those questions in advance (and hopefully, you will not have to use them, and several more.  These principals also help when preparing presentations to boards, commissions, and the public.
  • Completed Staff Work:  Never take a problem to your boss without also taking a short explanation of the problem, identification of key factors, alternative solutions, and your recommendation for a course of action.

Ever think of pulling a Michael Jordan by coming out of retirement for one final city manager gig?

 No.  Retirement is good.

What about running for elected office?

I actually thought this might be a possibility as I prepared for retirement, but I quickly learned that retirement is good.  TriMet gives me all of the board experience I need.

Who were your local government mentors?

  • Bob Smith (a.k.a. Budget Bob) — Bob was the long time Director of the Budget and Management Division of the State Executive Department when I started my career.  He was the one who drilled the “Completed Staff Work” mantra into me.
  • Fred Miller — Director of the Oregon Department of Energy when I went to work there.  (He later moved on the Direct the Oregon Department of Transportation the Oregon Executive Department, and he was a vice president at Portland General Electric.)  Fred was a master at asking the right questions to elicit information and to encourage people to think about alternatives.  He was always calm and collected, and he was incredible at building consensus and bringing divergent viewpoints together.
  • Doug Schmitz — City Manager of Lake Oswego when I served on the City Council.  Doug was a great city manager who was great at keeping his eye on the big picture.  He was also very entrepreneurial and was not afraid to try new strategies to move the community forward.

Some of us are undecided on whether we want the responsibility of becoming a city manager, convince us why we should pursue a career in city management.

Local government is the closest to the people.  That can be a drawback in that you always have to work very closely with some people who can be challenging.  However, it is also the most rewarding because you are directly impacting people’s lives, and the closeness to the people forces you to keep it real.  I also believe that local government is the most creative because of its closeness to the people.  You get to do things and to try things that larger organizations cannot, because of their size which requires bureaucracy.

What are the three biggest issues facing local government in Oregon?

    1. Tight budgets, unlimited demands for services
    2. Our corrosive and divided social atmosphere and the stress that puts on the social compact
    3. Changing demographics and the impact that has on service needs/delivery

Give us three suggestions for speakers in our 2013 Speaker Series.

I don’t know that I can come up with three.

I would definitely recommend someone who can talk about dealing with the media/how to communicate ideas effectively.  (See my response to recommended skills.)  I don’t have a name for you, but I would definitely look for someone skilled in this area and not just someone who has been a reporter for awhile.

Someone who can talk about the changing demographics of Oregon and what that means for the workplace and for the demand for, and delivery of, public services.  Multnomah County just had someone do this, and that person also did a presentation for TriMet.  I don’t have their name.

If ELGL was to spend a day in Lake Oswego, what are your recommendations for:

Breakfast

  • La Provence – Is there any other?  Excellent breakfasts, baked goods, and everything fattening and delicious.
  • Oswego Ice Creamery – If you want just a plain old, good diner breakfast, this is your place.

Lunch – There are a lot of really good choices.  The three that come to mind are:

  • Jeffe – Nouveau Mexican (is there such a term?)  Its different and really good
  • Oswego Grill – Reliably good food
  • Hunan Pearl – Some of the best Chinese food around

Dinner – Again, a lot of choices.  I would recommend all of the lunch places I listed plus:

  • Tuccis – Excellent Italianesque food in a very pleasant atmosphere
  • Zeppos – Brought to you by the same owner as Jeffe.  This one is Italian.
  • Ricardos – Excellent.  More traditional Italian.

Anything you would change about your career?

No.  Looking back, I am very happy with what I accomplished.

Finally, what book(s) is on your nightstand or e-reader?

Right now I am reading “The Obamas” and “Game of Thrones.”  I have over 30 books queued up on I-Books to read.  I am always reading something.

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