Blueprint For Building Community


American cities are a basic part of the fabric of our democratic traditions. Many of these cities are served by professional city managers and administrators. Cities that succeed at an outstanding level often employ professionals. Yet the average American knows little about the role of these professionals. City managers have seldom written about their experiences.

Blueprint for Building Community is a rare look at the career of a city manager. This career portrait is set in two ...

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Blueprint for Building Community: Leadership Insights for Good Government

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American cities are a basic part of the fabric of our democratic traditions. Many of these cities are served by professional city managers and administrators. Cities that succeed at an outstanding level often employ professionals. Yet the average American knows little about the role of these professionals. City managers have seldom written about their experiences.

Blueprint for Building Community is a rare look at the career of a city manager. This career portrait is set in two Illinois communities --Park Forest and Woodridge--communities which hold high aspirations for their residents. City managers, partnering with elected leaders and citizens in these communities, have worked to fulfill those aspirations. This book highlights the values and relationships that must be cultivated by the city manager to successfully build community. Although the focus is on the role of the city manager, other key participants such as elected officials, citizens, and employees can gain from the insights. Community building requires connecting the key groups in the community to the mission and "sacred things" dear to residents. Harnessing the energy of all the players produces tremendous results. For the many people who worked to build Park Forest and Woodridge, and so many communities across this country, this book is a tribute to their efforts.

This book is written to encourage the next generation of city managers to pursue the challenge of building communities. The author chronicles the lessons and principles that add to success as a city manager. He conveys the inspiration, passion and excitement to those who consider public service.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452006253
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 4/12/2010
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2010 John Perry
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4520-0625-3

Chapter One


The Last Lecture a video and book about Dr. Randy Pausch, a computer science professor, who died at 47 of pancreatic cancer, captured our hearts and spirits two years ago. The book had special meaning for me. I lost my sister to pancreatic cancer at 47. The Last Lecture is a story about fulfilling dreams and passing along some lessons for life. This book may never have the impact of Randy Pausch, but it is about fulfilling dreams, a tribute to those who shared them along the way, and some lessons for life.

"Life is a paradox." "Fact is stranger than fiction." "Never say never." All these catch phrases are a clear indication of the ironies of life. We just celebrated the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln; our most respected and admired President. Mr. Lincoln might find irony in being from Illinois, the state which competes for topping the list for all the values contrary to the Lincoln tradition. Lincoln brought honor to Illinoisans through his service and sacrifice. He stood for integrity, accountability, and commitment to country. Residents of Illinois would prefer to hold onto this ideal of leadership rather than what we have been dealt in state leaders in recent decades.

Adding to the irony, we have inaugurated a new President from Illinois. He is also our first African American President. Barack Obama has called for a commitment to a new generation of public service. He has asked for "our service and our active citizenship." The energizing of the younger generation has been quite impressive, and, hopefully, a harbinger of things to come. For some of us from the "older" generation, we welcome this renewal. For those of us who have committed our lives to public service since the 1960s, however, we see an irony in that we have continued to carry the "torch" and never have lost the fire of commitment to community.

While the national stage may see an ebb and flow to the value of public service, there is one arena in which that commitment to public service glows brightly. This arena is the community in which each of us calls home. While all politics is local, the governance and management of our communities are marked by a steadiness of purpose and service that sets them apart.

The philosophical swings of national politics have taken on cataclysmic proportions almost daily. Services at the community level continue unabated. A resident is burglarized, calls the police department, and an officer responds. A fire alarm triggers the engines to roll. Public Works sends the salt and plow trucks to clear the newly fallen 4" snow fall. You step into the shower in the morning and turn the faucet, the running water helps start your day. No, the shifts of national politics don't dramatically change what residents in our communities see happening each day and the continuing need to deliver these services.

Local government, the "lost" level of government in the federal system, still quietly goes about its business. Oftentimes, communities progress in spite of Washington policies. The steadiness and quality of our communities is a tribute to the contributions that elected officials, citizens, and professional staff make to building and maintaining our communities.

DeTocqueville, in his nineteenth century assessment of American life, considered local governments as the training ground for our democracy. The leadership challenge for communities, however, grows as resources diminish and the political polarization at higher levels of government does nothing to address local needs. We need to better understand why and how we come together at the community level to best serve our residents.

For thirty seven years I have been immersed in the dynamic profession of city management. As I reflect on my career and the outstanding people and opportunities that have been part of that experience, I hope to share the insights that may guide communities-their elected officials, residents, and professional managers-through the difficult challenges ahead. I will briefly describe in this book the why, who, and what associated with the best practices that I observed during my thirty seven year career.

What is the purpose of our work in local government? Work in local government is distinctive from work at the state and federal levels. There is an intimacy and closeness at the community level that is different from the connection at any other level of government. President Obama wants to renew the citizen connection-but must rely upon media that are more distant, less interactive, and unable to simultaneously convey the mutuality of emotions present. Whether the city manager encounters residents at a public hearing, the local grocery store, or down the street from his home, the city manager is there in person. The city manager is connected in time and space to the citizen. The city manager is always "available" and at hand.

The setting and environment of the work for the city manager is different from state and federal government work. You are directly accountable, personally present, each and every day. The local government manager is working in the environment originally conceived for bringing people together in community. Early Greek models for democracy were built on a small scale around the notion that all citizens were actively involved in the affairs of the city. This opportunity to build a community that fulfills the early ideals of community, providing for the basic well-being of the citizens and the environment where they could develop their full potential as people uniquely belongs to those who work in local government.

Broadly, three elements shape the success of the city manager in building community. First, the manager needs to grasp the aspirations of the community served. Second, the manager needs to demonstrate the values that build confidence in the role that he fulfills in the community. Third, he must find ways to link and connect all the community stakeholders and support their aspirations. The remainder of this chapter will expand on these three elements and close with one real-life example of how these elements played out in Woodridge.

City Management-The Sacred Responsibility

This responsibility for building community is a uniquely local business and its chief professional is the city manager. The Oath of the Athenian City State echoes the call that we must still heed: "We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many." The obligation that we carry is to "fight" for the "ideals and sacred things of the city." We must work to build communities that fulfill this charge. City managers sometimes get lost in the question of efficiency. Efficiency may be on the manager's list, but that is not where our work starts. Why we do the work of a city manager is to add purpose and meaning to the lives of people who come together in a community. Our purpose is the purpose of the people in our city.

If we believe in this purpose for our work, we must subscribe to a set of values that honors the tradition of building community. I put three values in the foundation for building the community-trust and faith, integrity, and respect. The twin values of trust and faith are at the very heart of our work. We must have trust and faith in the "wisdom of the masses." We come together in community because we are trying to become a cohesive unit to support the members of the group. The city manager must nurture the work of the many to provide opportunities for each member of the community. For it is in connecting to others that we all become better.

The city manager first needs to show trust and faith in himself-and view all those around him with the same regard. Without trust and faith in elected officials, citizens, and employees, the city manager can not make all the connections required to build an outstanding community. He can not call for the help that is needed to build the dreams of the citizens and the community collectively without trust and faith. The essence of building community is establishing mutual trust with all the stakeholders and nurturing that faith and trust on a daily basis.

The second foundation value is integrity. If we want to pursue the sacred things of the city, then we must not do anything that will "dishonor" that pledge. We all understand the complexities of communicating to the many stakeholder groups. We must make efforts to not only tell the truth, but make sure that we educate all these stakeholder groups in a manner that will help them fulfill their roles. City managers agree that our most important professional distinction is the Code of Ethics to which we commit. Our successful application of this Code goes far beyond "telling the truth." We have to communicate to our boards and citizens so that our individual role and our collective effort to build community have credibility.

Respect is the third value in our foundation for community building. We must increase the "reverence and respect" for those with whom we work to build community. If you have trust and faith in others, you best demonstrate those twin values by including a role for all who participate in building community. To do otherwise, defeats the very purpose of community building and why our profession exists.

These three foundation values are part of your basic mores for you to carry out your tasks as city manager. You will also require many personal skills to navigate during your community building journey. Value-based leadership in your community that fits with, and supports your style, will make a tremendous difference in the outcome. Values must be supported by actions that live those values. What better place to live those actions than in our communities.

Cherish the Uniqueness of Your Community

You show the value of the "ideals and sacred things" of the city by learning about your community and respecting its unique character and history. The citizens who come together in community first want to see your commitment to what they have built. It is in the understanding of the community foundation and the hopes for its future development that you begin your service as manager. From this understanding, you will need to work to establish the mission that will become the "self-fulfilling prophecy." The manager needs to figure out the dreams of the community and help move the community in the direction of making them come true. These are the "ideals and sacred things" that gives the manager a purposeful role. He needs to find a way for the other stakeholders to become involved in building the community of the future on the foundation of the present. The city manager nurtures that keystone of trust and faith through the absolute commitment to the community.

Everyone Needs to Help Build Community

Citizens are the ultimate touchstone for all that we do. We need to enlist them in helping to build the community. Community building is everyone's job. The first step is to confirm that there is an understanding of the mission-the "self-fulfilling prophecy" that brings folks together. We then need to insure that all are committed to that mission. We need to find ways to communicate with them and ask them how we can move toward our mission-and how each of us will contribute.

The city manager is the link between governing board and employees. The mayor, board, and manager is the core management team that must work together to coalesce the efforts of the community. At the core of this top management team is the mayor/manager partnership. This partnership is the leader team that sets the bar for the city organization and rallies the community to work together. These two leaders working in partnership want to bring all into the endeavor of building community.

The city manager is the primary resource for the mayor and the elected officials. He needs to "make them look good," not in a superficial way, but as the group responsible for governing the community. The elected officials must project leadership for the mission and goals of the community and as symbol for the "ideals and sacred things" that brings the community together. The city manager will work to point all toward the mission that the community has set and how progress can be made toward that vision. Building community is about building capacity amongst this core management team-the board as the governing body and the staff as generators of options to "make things happen" as well as the implementers of the designated action steps. The city manager must work to connect the management team to the board and to the residents and other stakeholders. We are better as a community by connecting to each other.

Teamwork for the Super Bowl

What needs to be done to make sure that community building becomes everyone's job? You will need to grow the team, one player at a time. Community building is incremental. It is constant. It does not end. We built a process in Woodridge that we called strategic management. This process which evolved over time melded together the components that were necessary to bring together all the stakeholders in the community.

Citizen Engagement

The elected officials provide leadership that steadfastly focuses on the village mission. In their wisdom, the Woodridge mayor and trustees recognized that citizen engagement, a real voice and real role for stakeholders, had to be part of building community.

Citizen engagement does not happen by accident. A community must design processes and structures to make effective connections to stakeholders. This helps send the message that input is valued. Woodridge has a long tradition of surveying residents to evaluate the community and its services. We added to that tradition neighborhood dialogues, town meeting, and other special task forces to focus upon the mission and how citizens could work with us for its achievement. We were successful because citizen input had a visible impact upon our activities, projects, and mission.

Citizen engagement is not just practiced by the governing body. Employees have a major role. They have more contact with residents each day than any board member has in a year. All those employee service contacts give us the opportunity to build a citizen engagement culture from the "outside in." Employees must be empowered to geometrically add to the connections of residents to the community.

Citizen engagement is the basis for defining the village mission, and the basis for insuring its pursuit. Each community has a set of "corporate" stakeholders as well. As the state with the most units of government, we in Illinois have a particular need to include other units of government, park district, school district, fire district, and library. The missions of each of these organizations must reinforce and support the community's mission.

Manager Must Help All Fulfill Dreams

The manager's job is to find a way for all those who become engaged in the community to fulfill the dreams that are defined for the community. He needs to translate the mission into a "positive self-fulfilling prophecy" for each participant. The manager must find a way to achieve results. I consider myself intelligent, but the manager's job is not to be smart. He needs to first and foremost help everyone else.

The manager must lead his professional team to develop strategies and options that will move the community toward its mission-and maintain the focus on the mission. City managers have been entrusted with carrying out the mission-the ideals and sacred things of the city. Managers who pass along that trust and faith to the department directors will be most successful. Managers must "radiate" leadership for community goals to those people that they make responsible for daily operations-the directors who instill and support employees in the citizen engagement culture. The city manager sets the bar to make the director group the operational leaders, bench markers, strategists, educators, communicators, and leaders for achievement of the goals and mission of the community.

This professional management team is the core group to link the goals, set by the community through its elected officials, to measurable results. All those involved in the community building process must have good data-data to assess progress, data to judge options, data to measure efficiency. Good data is essential to making good decisions. Good data helps educate everyone involved in the strategic management process and stay grounded in reality, not fantasy. Good data is critical to establishing and maintaining credibility that supports the foundation for trust and faith.


Excerpted from BLUEPRINT FOR BUILDING COMMUNITY by JOHN PERRY Copyright © 2010 by John Perry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Fulfilling Dreams....................1
Chapter 2 A Place To Call Home....................13
Chapter 3 Leader Values-Valued Leadership....................33
Chapter 4 Leadership Team Unified for Success....................43
Chapter 5 Engaging Citizens in Building a First Class Community....................55
Chapter 6 Strategies For Building Community....................79
Chapter 7 Aligning People and Organization Propels Community Forward....................97
Chapter 8 Doing Good Things and Telling People....................109
Chapter 9 Teammates in Fighting for the City's Ideals....................121
Chapter 10 Building the Community of Tomorrow....................151
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