As a recently graduated MPA student (July 1 graduation– check it out here!), I’m trying to learn as much as I possibly can about government. This post is the first of a series of interviews with outstanding state and local government employees across the country. I find people incredibly fascinating and I love learning about what they do, why they do it, and how they are making an impact.
I hope you join me as I hear stories from people with all different types of jobs, from city managers to emergency management coordinators, to HR directors. If you have any suggestions for great government employees you think I should interview, or interesting questions to ask them, please send me a message! I welcome all suggestions you have.
Today I am happy to introduce my *first ever* interview, with Scott Collins. Scott is an energetic and down-to-earth Assistant to the City Manager in Santa Cruz, California. I had a great time talking to Scott (minus some minor technical issues I had with the podcast recording software!) and I think we all would be lucky to have someone like him working to make our city a better place.
Listen to the Full interview!
Below are some highlights from the interview. At the end you can see why Scott loves his job as Assistant to the City Manager. You can listen to the full 30-minute podcast below or find it on iTunes through this link to hear more about Scott’s experience in local government, and his success engaging citizens through social media. Enjoy!
Interview with Scott Collins, Assistant to the City Manager in Santa Cruz, California
Scott: My name is Scott Collins I live, and work, and play as much as I possibly can in the city of Santa Cruz. I grew up in Southern California and made my way up to Santa Cruz in 1997 to attend undergrad at the University, and fell in love with the location. It’s a beautiful place, you should all come and visit as soon as you all can! It’s sunny 300 days a year, lots of surfing, which is my real passion, and I’m just ecstatic to be back here. I have a one-year-old son too, so life is great at this point.
Kacie: Why did you decide to work in local government?
Scott: Growing up in San Diego, my father worked for the city, which was over 1 million people at that time. I was just really fascinated by the work that he was doing and the stories that I heard from him about political intrigue, making difficult decisions, and facing budget cuts; the challenges and opportunities that he spoke of was really fascinating to me. And, from that point I decided I was going to go into local government, at 18 years of age. What I really like about local government is that it’s less bureaucratic and less risk averse in comparison to what I had seen working on the Hill back in D.C., and what I had seen from my friends and family working for the Fed and other friends in state agencies, it’s just less people and less red tape. You can really get close to the community and make an impact directly on the things that you do. And, working for a smaller government you have more autonomy on a personal level. In my current job I work on communications, budget, council relations, legislative agenda, social media operation reviews, and so on and so forth. So there is always something new going on, a new project being thrown my way. Also I’m fascinated by the civic engagement piece at a local level, I believe local government best represents Jeffersonian democratic ideals in that we’re so close, and we not only provide the services, but we also provide access to policy decision makers on a daily basis. You don’t see that in other levels of government.
Kacie: What prepared you for your current position as Assistant to the City Manager?
Scott: I received my MPA from George Washington University in 2006, and had to move to Denver where my wife was living, which was a great place to start my career. I worked for Jefferson County, which is the second largest county in the state of Colorado. At that point, as a newbie, I had all these different theories about what government should or shouldn’t be, and quickly learned that theory is one thing, and what happens on the ground is entirely different. But there are some convergences. And luckily I was able to use some of the stuff I had learned in budget classes to help develop a tool for priority-based budgeting for the county, which is an offshoot of budgeting for outcomes. It more directly ties what you do on a daily basis to the goals that you’re trying to achieve in your community.
I moved from there to the county of Denver where I worked for large public agencies like police and fire, did contract negotiations, and luckily enough was able to help plan for the democratic national convention of 2008. I also supported the mayor’s office of sustainability so I got to work on not only budget, but also things like recycling initiatives to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, and also working with elected officials… I got to understand where that administrative/policy split occurs and I found out that it’s blurred and gray, it’s not nearly as black and white as we had learned at the university.
From that point I moved to the city of Boulder, CO, which is very comparable to the city of Santa Cruz. I worked on project management, which, for anyone who is in an MPA class, or in their first few years of their career, I can’t stress enough how important it is to figure out how to be a good project manager. Even if [the team is] really small, because you learn how to deal with diverse groups of people with different agendas, managing teams from across different departments, and being able to effectively deal with all those differences, it’s a critical skill set to develop.
I also worked with the University of Boulder, and understanding how different agencies work together was really interesting. I dipped my toes into the social media world there as well, which is just a fascinating piece that we’re all grappling with at the local level, just as everyone else is in the state and federal world.
With each position I learn something different like learning budgeting, how to work with elected officials, how to work with major public agencies like police and fire, who are out there risking their lives on a daily basis, and doing things like contract negotiations, so it’s certainly helped position me for this current position I’m in right now.
Kacie: What do you enjoy about your current position in Santa Cruz?
Scott: I love the ever-changing environment. There’s never a day that is similar to the one that preceded it, and you can guarantee that tomorrow will be different than today so it’s never boring, it’s dynamic. The people here are just great, it’s an intelligent workforce, everybody is motivated to do good and provide all these services and to live up to the ideals of the organization. We all love the impact we make on the community.
Even if you’re a budget guy or gal, you might feel like you’re removed from what’s going on in the community but in fact, the decisions you make in your spreadsheets, and how you present it, how you influence council members, will have an impact on the public. And just helping people, be it council members, or the media, to understand what we’re trying to do, or to engage with the public if they have constituent concerns, or they want to see policy go in a different direction. It’s just really fascinating.
Great interview! Again, here is a link to the full podcast.