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Blogs / Leadership {RE}imagined / 8 Local Government Professionals Share What Keeps Them Motivated and Passionate in Public Service

8 Local Government Professionals Share What Keeps Them Motivated and Passionate in Public Service


There is no doubt that the United States has a dedicated group of public servants who strive to make our country for the better. Whether leading important scientific advances, helping homeless veterans get off the street and reclaim their lives, supporting small businesses and impoverished communities, or sustaining our environment by reducing harmful pollutants emitted into our air and waterways, these often unsung heroes make vital contributions to our country and help make our founding promise real for more people.”

So what wisdom do local government professionals proffer on public service? ICMA decided to ask several local government professionals questions surrounding public service and what keeps them motivated and passionate to stay in the profession.

J.J. Murphy, City Manager, City of Hobbs, New Mexico

As an active Air Force reservist and a City Manager, my sense of service runs deep. I stay motivated because every day I see the positive impact that local governments have in all of our communities. I enjoy being in a profession where I am challenged to develop creative solutions to present and future problems.

Aaron Burnett, City Administrator, City of Keokuk, Iowa

The ability to improve the lives of citizen’s everyday makes the constant struggle and workload worthwhile. City management is a stressful and demanding profession, but this is because the position plays such important role in the vitality of communities. We are blessed everyday with this great privilege and responsibility in our daily efforts to serve our respective cities and should never lose sight of this fact.

Pam Brangaccio, City Manager, New Smyrna Beach, Florida

To stay motivated, I maintain focus on the big-picture within my City; and remain an advocate for “the possible”.  Managers can greatly assist the political body, in establishing long term goals, to then stay focused on their vision, and not to be derailed by small challenges on projects or issues.  We can often be a voice of reason in an emotional community debate and can assist by offering solid options and solutions.

We also have an amazing “City team” which is a combination of “in-house” talent and senior managers recruited from larger communities. They provide motivation and passion for their City Manager to stay engaged and to make a difference working with the elected officials, and the community at-large.

Mary Jaeger, Public Works Director, City of Olathe, Kansas

Serving my community is what motivates me every day. Many of the services in public works are essential for day to day life including drinking water, transportation and solid waste. I’m motivated knowing that the services we provide are necessary for our residents to live their lives.

Samantha Brunell, Management Analyst, Village of Palatine, IL

I love that I am always held accountable to thousands of people, as almost every major decision I make impacts not only our 338 FT employees, but our 70,000 residents and countless businesses and community organizations. I also love that my days are never truly predictable as new challenges are thrown your way left and right, and when you least expect them. This is truly a career of “paying it forward” for me, as it was surviving the shooting at NIU on 2/14/08 that allowed me to see how much of an impact a community can make on someone’s life; I want to make an impact on someone’s life every single day.

Mark Abeles-Allison, Bayfield County Administrator, Bayfield County, Wisconsin

I was City Administrator / Clerk in Council Grove Kansas from 1990 - 1997. This was the age of the DOT Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement projects. Our City Council and Community and Business Leaders came together to create a tremendous project, the Council Grove Riverwalk.

Together with architects and engineers, Kansas State University Students, a local construction contractor company and tremendous community input and support the City built paved walkways connecting Santa Fe Trail Historic Sites and a low water dam. The project included lighting, limestone rock and interpretive signage with the help of the local historic society and National Park Service.

Tony Mazzucco, Town Administrator, Town of Adams, Massachusetts

I grew up in a community that had made some poor decisions and not reacted efficiently or effectively to a rapidly changing environment. The result was devastating to the community, the quality of schools and the quality of life declined precipitously. A community that was once desirable only saw people wanting to leave. I never begrudge anyone their success, but to want to leave a community because its deteriorated to the point where it was no longer desirable always felt wrong to me, and I knew I wanted to do something to make sure, to whatever extent possible, those things didn't happen. What keeps me motivated to continue working in public service, and it’s challenging, is the thought that in the end I am working for the future. There is an old Greek proverb that I think nicely summarizes what we do and why some of us do this work "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in". I may not be an old man, but knowing that decisions today can make things better tomorrow keeps me motivated.

Michael Van Milligen, City Manager, City of Dubuque, Iowa

My wife, Nancy, and I met in graduate school when we were both completing our MPA. After several public service positions Nancy was hired as the first President and CEO of the newly formed Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. In 12 years she has built an asset base of over $65 million and the Foundation provides community leadership on such important topics as improving third grade reading scores, Green and Healthy Homes, Sustainable Dubuque, workforce development, local foods and Inclusive Dubuque.

After starting my public service career working behind a refuse truck as a summer employee in Lansing, Illinois I became a Police Officer in Carbondale, Illinois. After receiving my MPA and working in the Police Department in Skokie, Illinois I became Assistant Village Manager in Skokie. I now serve as City Manager in Dubuque, Iowa and have been fortunate to work on many exciting and fulfilling projects and with many special people. The pinnacle of my career has been serving as an ICMA Vice-President.

Nancy and I are fortunate to love our jobs (and each other). We believe our greatest public service accomplishment is that we have had almost 30 children live in our homes over our marriage, including Foster children, foreign exchange students, our 5 children and other families that just needed some help. We are currently raising two wonderful little boys, Cadence (8) and Justice (6). While there have been many heartbreaking moments, successes and situations where our help might not have been enough, Nancy always reminded me, " if there is room in the heart, there is room in the home."

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