Magazine article Public Management

How Do You Run a City? Gaston Shows Class How

Magazine article Public Management

How Do You Run a City? Gaston Shows Class How

Article excerpt

As Mountain Brook, [Alabama], City Manager Sam Gaston goes about his job, he follows the same advice as many students: Pay attention. This could be on the test.

But if it is, Gaston will be the one giving the test. He has taught a class in state and local government administration at UAB [University of Alabama at Birmingham] for eight years, instructing students on the day-to-day operations of a city or governmental entity.

As government has grown larger and offered more services, people have come to expect more from it. Yet, Gaston said, few people appreciate the work that goes into the basic daily functions of a city--police and fire protection, maintenance of public parks and libraries, urban planning and even garbage collection.

"A lot of people don't realize the various facets of local government and the services they provide," Gaston said. "They just take things for granted. City government, if it does the job right, improves the quality of life for them and their community."

The course is structured to give practical lessons in how local government works. Gaston teaches the elective course as part of UAB's Master of Public Administration program. "You certainly don't do it for the money," he said. "You do it because you want to give back to the profession."

Gaston had taught some undergraduate classes for Jacksonville State University when he was approached by UAB in 2000 about teaching an urban administration class. For his first class, he teamed up with former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington. After working 16 years as Mountain Brook's city manager, Gaston has a wealth of personal experience to draw on, as well as personal contacts within government who can supplement his experience and lectures with stories of their own.

For example, students get visits from guest speakers who are in government. Among those speaking this semester were Michael Stampfler, Talladega's city manager, Sherrie Kelly, a Coosa County administrator, and Dana Hazen, Mountain Brook's city planner. …

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