Friday, October 16, 2009

"So What Do You Do?"


A few weeks ago I turned 50. My wife had the idea to throw a party for me and to invite people over to my house I had grown up with in school and church that were also turning 50 this year. So, on a Saturday night in September, we opened our house to about 40 people who came over to renew old acquaintances.

It was a lot of fun to see people that I hadn’t seen in 30 or more years. I think if a vote was taken, I would have been voted as the person most changed in 30 years. That aside, after some small talk, the inevitable question was always asked, “So what do you do?” To this question I always proudly answered, “I am the City Manager of the City of Fontana.” Often times, my response was equally met with a blank stare and the follow-up question was asked - “So what do you do?”

Based on these responses, I decided to use my blog today to give a glimpse of what a day is like in the life of a city manager. For this purpose, I pulled a day from my calendar last week and will walk through the day’s activities so you can at least get a feel for what a city manager does.

Before I go through the day, there is one thing I should say. Perhaps what I like most about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day in my office. Some days are completely filled end-to-end with meetings, while other days may only have a couple meetings scheduled. It often seems to me that the days I don’t have meetings scheduled are the busiest days for some strange reason.

My day starts at 6:00 am when my alarm goes off. After hitting the snooze button once, I roll out of bed and reach for my PDA to see what messages I have received during the night. I see that I have 18 messages that I received while asleep, and I glance through them to see if any of them need to be dealt with immediately. This particular morning I see that one of the messages is from the Mayor asking for some information which I forward to the Public Works Director for follow-up. I then respond back to the Mayor that we will take care of it and headed off to the shower.

I am out of my house by 6:30 and on the way to the office. I typically get into City Hall about 7:00 am. I again check my PDA which has been vibrating away during my drive to the office. I note that the Public Works Director has already responded to the Mayor and to me on this morning’s question. I now have 33 messages that need to be taken care of.

I sit at my desk after walking down the hall to get a cup of coffee. I pick up the newspaper that I brought from home and scan through stories looking for items about Fontana or other local communities that may be of interest. Having fully reviewed the newspaper, I put it in my outbox for later pick-up by my secretary who circulates the paper to the City Clerk’s office.


It is now 7:15 am and I turn on my computer to check the calendar for the day. I see that I have a meeting with all of my department heads that morning, lunch with Mayor Pro-Tem Warren, an afternoon meeting with County Supervisor Gonzales, and a City Council Meeting that evening.

Between 7:15 and 8:10 I work through my messages that I see have now grown to 42, and read through the contracts left for my signature by my secretary. In working through my e-mails, I am asked a question about the possibility of settling a lawsuit that will result in a payment to the city of $270,000. I respond to the sender with some questions about the legal issues as well as the monetary value of the case and ultimately decide to bring the issue to the City Council at an upcoming meeting.

I also see that there was some gang activity at one of our parks to which the police responded. There were no arrests and no one was injured, but I forward the information along to the City Council for their information. I also have a number of questions about the evening’s meeting agenda items sent to me from Councilmember Scialdone. I respond directly to Mr. Scialdone on some of the items and refer his other questions to various staff members for response. I copy my assistant on all of my e-mails and she understands that it is her responsibility to make sure that all issues have been addressed in a timely manner. There are a number of newspaper articles that have been forwarded to me from various sources as well as some operational statistics that I print out and file for later use.

By 8:10 I have cleared my e-mail and gone to work on the contracts on my desk. The contracts that need to be reviewed and signed include a first-time homebuyer loan and a professional services contract for technical support on our new computer system. Also included in the file are expense claims from staff that are requesting reimbursement and leave slips from a couple department heads. The two reimbursement requests I kick back to the department for additional work.

At 8:30 I walk down to the Development Services Building for a meeting with all my department heads. I don’t have an agenda but decide to talk to them about ethics, following procedures, and admitting mistakes when made. I get on my soapbox for about 15 minutes, try to keep things fairly lighthearted, and then go around the room to let each department head talk about issues of importance. The meeting is done by 9:20 and I am back in my office by 9:30 with more coffee in hand.

It’s back to the computer as another 22 messages have been added to my inbox. Messages from City Council Members are printed in red and always get focused on first. By 10:00, the e-mail queue is once again cleared and my secretary Karen brings in a file for me to review.

The first item in the file is an anonymous note from an individual claiming to be a City worker leveling complaints about a co-worker. I don’t like dealing with anonymous letters but the accusations are significant enough that I ask my secretary to call in the Department Head and the Director of Human Resources to discuss. Also in the file is some correspondence to various developers and a policy item for City staff for my review and approval. I sign off the developer letters and make changes to the policy letter and send it back to the department.

It is now 10:40 and I have the department head and the Human Resources Director in my office to discuss the letter I received. We discuss the allegations and I am told the department has already heard about the allegations and had initiated an investigation last week. I spend some time talking about my specific concerns and ask the Human Resources Director to stay on top of the issue and keep me apprised.

It is now 11:00. I am back to the computer and see that I have 43 new messages. Several of these messages are from residents with some traffic and safety concerns. I respond directly to some and others I forward to other staff people for response. By 11:30 I leave the office to meet Mayor Pro-Tem Warren for lunch and then I am back to the office at 1:15.

1:15 to 1:30 I have another several contracts to review and sign off. At 1:30 I am back in my car heading to the County Administrative Offices to meet with County Supervisor Josie Gonzales. Our meeting starts at 2:00 and we discuss a variety of issues. I make a pitch for some possible funding from her for a project the City is constructing in her district and she says she will try to find some money.

By 3:00 I am back in the office. I talk to my assistant Amy to make sure that all of the follow-up items have been addressed before the City Council meeting that evening. She informs me of some potential angry property owners who may show up at the meeting about a proposed street widening project. I ask my secretary to have the City Engineer come by to discuss the project with me prior to the meeting. It is then back to my e-mail.

Another 34 messages are waiting for me and are dealt with. The City Engineer showed up at 4:00 and we talked about the issues surrounding the proposed street widening. That meeting was done by 4:15.

From 4:15 to 4:45 I returned calls from our State Lobbyist, a political consultant working for a local business, and a property owner wishing to create a development agreement with the City Council. By 4:45 I glance through the new messages on my computer to see if there are any that won’t wait and then head to the Executive Conference Room at 5:00 for our City Council workshop.

From 5:00 to 10:15 I work with the City Council at their meeting, and finally head for home about 10:30. I got home at 10:50, checked my PDA one last time to see if I received any follow-up messages from the City Council about the meeting that evening. I did receive a phone message from a City Council member who wanted to clarify a comment they made during the meeting and was in bed by 11:15 p.m.

“So what do you do?” I am the City Manager of Fontana.