Government Examines the Task Ahead of Future City Managers
Ted Gaebler is an all-star super-manager among city mangers striving to enhance the quality of life in their municipalities. He literally wrote the books on making government less bureaucratic and more functional. Now retired, Gaebler discussed the challenges ahead for future city managers as part of the continuing Randall Lewis Seminar Series presented by the UC Riverside School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development.
Most Americans live under a city manager’s oversight of their community. It’s a job at which Ted Gaebler became an all-star super-city manager over the last 40 years. “I’m not a policy guy. That’s the elected officials’ job,” Gaebler said. “But I do know how to manage in a government setting, small or large. I also know how to change it.”
Gaebler is credited with co-authoring two international best sellers on making government less bureaucratic and more functional. Now retired, Gaebler discussed the challenges ahead for future city managers as part of the continuing Randall Lewis Seminar Series presented by the UC Riverside School of Public Policy’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development.
Gaebler explained to Ron Loveridge, the director of the CSSD and former Riverside Mayor, that forging good relationships is, and will continue to be, a primary responsibility of the city manager. He said helping elected leaders broaden their community interest while helping them succeed on their particular issues has been a fun thing for him to do as an administrator.
The city manager, however, must also manage whatever there is before them in an ever-changing and budget-strapped political landscape, he said. Even though Federal revenue sharing, in-lieu taxes and redevelopment fees no longer pad city coffers, the city chief executive still has an overriding budgetary task to achieve – a surplus.
“Whatever the economic circumstances are, I deeply feel that my responsibilities as a manger are to make sure we have a surplus at the end of the year regardless of what has come in the door,” Gaebler said.
On the cost side, Gaebler sees some disturbing trends in public pension systems that may hamstring city managers and cities abilities to provide other services.
“We don’t pay for roads very much anymore. We use gas tax instead of general fund revenue. We don’t have the libraries or the swimming pools, the recreation or homeless programs, or incentives for businesses,” he said. All of that has been driven out by the unsustainable cost of police and fire pensions for essentially the same level of safety.
But Gaebler doesn’t necessarily advocate some new sweeping economic development plan to buoy city finances. Instead, the co-author of “Reinventing Government,” and “Positive Outcomes: Raising the Bar on Government Reinvention,” said economic development should be the responsibility of the private sector and chamber of commerce.
“What we need to do is be brokers, catalysts and facilitators,” he said. “We need to find out what the resources are in our broader communities, we need to be aware of the resources the families are spending, the churches are spending, the businesses are spending, the non-profits are spending – we need to use our money selectively and strategically leverage the non-profits to do something.“
He cited many other ways to reinvent government from the power position of city manager. “I could actually in many communities enhance the quality of life of citizens while at the same time not have to run for elective office,” Gaebler said. “So, I could do well by doing good for my various communities in various states. I found that to be a very satisfying career.”
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