City Management: Fostering Transparency and Pride in Civic Duty

By Frank, Kenneth | Nation's Cities Weekly, November 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

City Management: Fostering Transparency and Pride in Civic Duty


Frank, Kenneth, Nation's Cities Weekly


For me and many municipal employees across the state, recent news images of the city manager of Bell, Calif., being led away in handcuffs were disturbing. The allegations of compensation and city funds abuses not only represented a flagrant disregard of public trust, but an extreme break from the transparency and high ethical standards that define the city management profession.

I am the city manager for Laguna Beach. In this role, I typically work 10-hour days meeting various department heads, responding to the needs of residents and city council members, and helping to ensure the smooth running and general well-being of the city. My drive and enjoyment come from guiding community-improvement projects from inception through completion--whether it is building a new park, resurfacing streets or providing shelter and services for the homeless.

Under the direction of the city council, city management is a big job with big responsibilities. These include managing essential services like police, fire, paramedics, and--in Laguna Beach's case--lifeguards. I also oversee an array of public works, such as storm drains and sewers, as well as recreational, development and redevelopment programs. Properly fulfilled, these duties allow the city and its citizenry to function efficiently together and create a better quality of life.

My interest in contributing to the greater good through public service began early. I was just entering San Francisco State College when President John F. Kennedy issued a call for competent people to get into the public sector and strengthen the nation. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in political science and economics, I earned a master's degree in public administration from UC Berkeley, which led me to a five-year stint with the League of California Cities and four years as assistant to the city manager of Berkeley. Laguna Beach hired me as city manager in 1979, and here I have remained.

My position calls for a comprehensive skill set. Beyond appropriate higher education, basic detail orientation, and strong written and oral communication skills, a city manager needs conceptual, reasoning and quantitative abilities in order to manage the city budget and conduct and coordinate multiple tasks. The manager also needs to be pragmatic and flexible in following the direction of the city council and meeting unexpected challenges. …

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