Noor Shaikh is the ICMA Local Government Management Fellow with the City of Aurora, Colorado. She earned her MPA at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs in 2016. Through a series of interviews with current and former Fellows, she hopes to highlight their accomplishments and give a first-hand look into the Local Government Management Fellowship experience.
School/Graduation: University of Alabama-Birmingham 2013
Fellowship Site: City of Aurora, Colorado
Parrish Gibson began her Local Government Management Fellowship (LGMF) with the City of Aurora, Colorado, in 2015 and was part of the 2015-2016 LGMF cohort. She has been working as a project coordinator for the city's planning department since May 2016 and is getting ready to start a new job in a few weeks. I was able to catch her before she left and ask her a few questions about her LGMF experience.
Why did you apply for the LGMF? The city manager in the community where I was interning suggested I apply. He thought I would be a good fit for the LGMF and offered to give me a reference. I consider him a mentor and a path maker for me because I had never heard of the program before him.
What did you expect from the Fellowship? I expected it to be a higher level internship and a city manager training program. I also expected to learn from, work directly under, and develop a close relationship with the city manager.
Could you tell us a bit about your experience as a Fellow? Because it was the first year that the city of Aurora participated in the LGMF program, we built the experience as we went along. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing since I had a lot of input into x what projects I wanted to work on and where. The only mandatory assignment was budgeting, which I definitely appreciated.
The assistant city manager/city clerk hired me, and I started the program under her supervision. I worked closely with her and also consider her a mentor. She went above and beyond to ensure that I was happy with the work I was doing and to make sure I was introduced to everyone in the high ranks. My first few weeks kicked off with a series of meet-and-greets with all the department heads. I learned about all the departments, which helped me figure out which departments I would enjoy working with. Once budget season was over, I got to choose which department I wanted to rotate to, so I chose the Office of Development Assistance (ODA). I learned a lot about economic development and the development projects that the department was working on. I also assisted the ODA manager in preparing the background information for several websites and attended weekly pre-application meetings. From there I moved to the planning department, where I became part of the team that was responsible for the development of the new comprehensive plan. I stayed there for the remainder of my fellowship. In between rotations, I attended council meetings and helped with several other projects related to elections, development fee studies, and labor management relations. For the most part, the fellowship was very structured.
How about any specific projects that you worked on? My favorite project was the time I spent in planning and the development of the new comprehensive plan. Because I was such an integral part of the team, I felt very invested in the success of the new comp plan. I was there from the very beginning, when the Planning director chose a consultant, and then when we began going through the work plan.
One thing I appreciated about the consultants was how they took a different approach to the average “textbook comp plan.” Their goal was to tell the story of Aurora based on the community’s input. Before any documents were drafted, we conducted some thorough community outreach process. It was one of the biggest community outreach efforts the city ever implemented. One of the most fulfilling moments was when a refugee community organizer told me she appreciated us coming to their organization and asking for their input. She said that no one had ever been done before, even though the plans that were previously developed would have an impact on their lives. I realized then how important it was to reach out to every part of the community and solicit their input. One of our goals was to hear from members of the community about what they valued and what they wanted to change. If that was different from what the council valued and wanted to change, it highlighted the disconnect between the policy makers and those affected by the policies.
What were the biggest learning moments of your fellowship? I learned a lot about different management styles. I quickly recognized how management styles can affect those who are being managed. I learned a lot about what people appreciated and didn’t appreciate about their manager and took notes. I will always remember what I learned here during my fellowship and apply it.
What did you find most memorable about the 2016 ICMA conference in Kansas City? Hearing Soledad O’Brien speak and meeting her in person was literally the highlight of the 2016 conference for me. She was so inspiring! I also really loved Marc Ott’s speech as incoming ICMA executive director. It was extremely heartfelt and enlightening. Before hearing him speak, I had viewed Mr. Ott as somewhat quiet and almost cold, but his conference speech humanized him.
Do you have any advice for incoming fellows (things you wish you had known beforehand)? I would say that this is the time when you can try anything and fail, and it will be ok. The local government staff knows that you are young and still learning, so they should give you challenging projects that you might fail at. If you’re not being challenged, speak up. Your fellowship is a learning experience, so approach it as such. I wish I would have learned a little more about the grant writing process, but that’s super specific to my goals.
Just make sure you get out of it what you expect to, and you should be fine. Go to the really high- level meetings; I tried to go to as many executive meetings as I was allowed to go to. People would literally look at me as if to say “Why are you here”, but I was there to learn. I liked to see what type of decisions the city manager was expected to make and how he reached each decision.
Do you have any advice for current MPA students interested in a career in local government? My advice would be that if you are interested in local government, you already know how big an impact you can make. I always knew I wanted to be in government, but I started off with the federal government and ended up not being very fulfilled. I realized that local government would give me the opportunity to literally see the fruits of my labor every day. I love knowing what new development is going in that vacant lot, or which service provider can help this family. I know people say this about every job, but literally, every day is different, especially at the city manager level.
So, what’s next for you? I just got a new job as a management analyst in the city of Artesia, California. I interviewed directly with the city manager and will work directly for him. I’m excited about this opportunity because, in the interview, he said I will basically be doing everything he doesn’t have time to do. This will give me the opportunity to apply what I learned during my fellowship, especially when it comes to decision making. With that job under my belt, I’ll be able to continue on the path to becoming a city manager. Wish me luck!
Learn more about the Local Government Management Fellowship here.