From the City Manager 08/26/16
City management is a tough gig!
It was during my high school days growing up in Oklahoma that I first dreamed of being a city manager. I developed an interest in public administration while visiting with a city manager in a nearby community. I thought from that time on that it would make for interesting work, and I have found in my 30 years in the city management field that it is indeed the most interesting work around.
These days, when you read about petitions to terminate my position or you hear accusations of personal agendas and mismanagement, you understandably may question why I would ever want to do this job. I never question.
In all these year, working in communities of all sizes, I’ve learned a few things.
Lesson One: You can’t please everyone. There are as many different perspectives on each issue as there are taxpayers in town. You must filter through the politics for the sake of the common good.
Sometimes, the decisions are gut-wrenching and may even challenge long-held local loyalties and beliefs. But in the interest of best serving the majority, change is often necessary. One example in recent history is the restructuring of roles and priorities in the Park Department, which led to multiple improvements in our park and zoo and helped restore this venue to its rightful status as an icon of community pride.
Lesson Two: There are consequences to every decision. No matter the issue, someone is going to be impacted. Think it through, research every angle, lose as much sleep as necessary, then choose wisely.
In joining the City staff six years ago, little did I know I was inheriting a dicey situation in our Police Department and one of my first orders of business would be to assist in the criminal investigation of a corrupt chief. Fortunately, our department rebounded stronger under the leadership of Chief Harry Smith, and I expect more great things to come on the watch of Chief Jerry Harrison.
Lesson Three: It takes a team. My management style is to surround myself with qualified professionals who are empowered to lead their departments. They are the experts in their areas. I must trust their judgment.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to understand I have an all-star team. Thankfully, I trusted the judgment of our emergency services leaders as we made the leap to consolidate our fire and EMS departments a few years ago. This transformation, though not without its challenges and some rather painful silo-busting, has created a much more efficient department better trained and equipped to respond to our citizens’ emergency calls. The wisdom of this decision was never more evident than in the last year, since the closure of Mercy Hospital and a significant transition in the way our Fire/EMS staff are called to serve the community.
And the most important lesson of all: It’s bigger than you and me. Acting in the best interest of the whole community means seeing the big picture and taking the long view. It’s human nature, I think, for us to let our immediate woes consume us - our property tax bill, our fears about the loss of health care services in our community, concerns about general economic decline. All are absolutely valid reasons for worry. I get it, and I’m right there with you.
But when I put on my City Manager’s hat on my way to work each day, it’s my responsibility to think broader. My team and I are challenged with finding solutions and taking action. We work day in and day out to improve our great community for not just ourselves and our current residents, but for generations to come.
Today, we unfortunately find our community in a bitter divide over our immediate woes. Years of walking the tightrope of City spending, balancing limited resources with unlimited needs and taxpayers’ appetite has led us to a situation where more difficult decisions must be made. This time, it involves our own “house,” the workplace of those who strive daily to make our community better, keep you safe and enhance the quality of life we all enjoy in Independence.
No, the situation isn’t breaking news. Just in my six years here, the deteriorating condition of City Hall, routine maintenance and repair issues, recommendations for major building improvements and/or alternative facilities have been presented to the City Commission no less than 32 times. We have patched, repaired, replaced and held our breath (literally) in hopes that our 100-year-old building could sustain us just awhile longer until appropriate – and digestible - alternatives were vetted.
Unfortunately, circumstances beyond our control have forced our hand and propelled us into territory we were never quite ready to tread before. It feels a little like drawing the map after you’ve already reached your destination. Except that we are still not “there.” There is much work, thought, consideration, discussion, debate and decision-making yet to come.
I couldn’t be more proud of the courage of our City staff and our Commissioners for rising to the challenge to address our immediate woes while keeping an eye on the future and committing to finding solutions to carry our community forward.
Improving, advancing, progressing…it takes time, it takes money, it takes backbone and it takes sacrifice.
And as for my commitment, it hasn’t wavered. Chips may fall, critics may attack, but I remain optimistic for the future of our exceptional community, and I will continue to do what I believe in my heart is right.City Manager Micky Webb