A Note from Greg
Five Years In
I still remember looking out into the small crowd of well-wishers and curious staff as I was being sworn in as City Manager five years ago. It was Sept. 15, 2008, and the stock market was crashing, which in turn began the worst recession our country would face in the past 50 years. Many were watching their phones as the waves of reports signaled the crash. It was an auspicious beginning, for sure.
Oh well, I wanted a new challenge!
After working 25 years at Missouri State University at jobs ranging from junior computer programmer to vice president for Administrative & Information Services, and with a little encouragement from my bride and some community members, I decided to apply for the City Manager position.
Once I made the cut to become one of three finalists, it became an endurance test. The media attempted to expose everything about each of us. The search committee ran us through two and a half days of meetings, speeches, media interviews and community “get-to-know-ya” events, including an ice cream social to meet citizens at Phelps Grove Park in 100-degree heat while we were in suits. (I’d still like to talk to the person who thought THAT was a good idea.)
Being selected to become Springfield’s 13th city manager was an honor. As the only finalist without prior city management experience, I knew there would be a lot of doubters and I would be under the microscope. I was right.
It didn’t take long on the job to recognize that my suspicions about the City staff were true – they are really good at what they do. Like my previous co-workers at MSU, the City staff members are dedicated to public service. I love working with people like that.
My priorities from the start were split between community priorities and internal priorities. For the community, the looming, 800-pound gorilla was a $200 million underfunded Police-Fire pension fund. It was a problem I felt our community needed to face head-on.
What I'm Most Proud Of
• Engaging the next generation.
• Telling our story. Connecting the dots.
• Staff professional development.
• Doing the things that no other city has tried, even if they seem a bit wacky.
• Lifecycle budgeting for capital.
• Working relationship with the County.
• Becoming the employer of choice.
When I consider what I’m most proud of during this first five years, three big things come to mind. The first is that we, as a City staff team and as a community, have faced issues head-on. We tend not to “kick the can down the road” for the next generation to tackle. We pride ourselves on having the backbone to take on big problems, even though it is uncomfortable and would be much easier to do otherwise.
It was unbelievably unpopular to lead the charge to address the underfunded Police-Fire pension fund during a recession, but it was the right thing to do. Now, other communities, facing similar problems with their pension funds, wonder how we accomplished that feat. For that, we thank our citizens for recognizing the importance of tackling this challenge. What would be the discussion in our community today if we had not?
Second, I’m also very proud of how the City weathered the recession. It was a special challenge over and above addressing the underfunded pension plan. For a community whose basic services are funded mostly by sales tax revenue, a recession becomes a significant challenge.
During the first two years I was City Manager, we cut $12 million of funding from the City’s general fund budget of $75 million. At one point, we had 200 positions vacant and frozen. Due to a staffing shortage in the Fire Department, we were forced to close fire stations on a rotating basis throughout the community. These were not easy decisions – these were the decisions that kept me up at night (and resulted in many 3 a.m. emails to staff). But we were doing what had to be done, and we did it without tapping our reserves, without borrowing money to meet our obligations, and without using one-time funding sources to temporarily balance our budget.
Recognizing those strategies and more, Moody’s, the bond credit rating business that provides international financial research on bonds issued by commercial and government entities, actually upgraded our bond rating during the recession. While Moody’s doesn’t provide statistics on this, we believe they upgraded the bond rating of only 1-2 percent of cities in the country during the recession. I’m very proud of the way our team addressed this challenge – it showed their character.
The third thing I am most proud of is the Leadership Team – the set of 25 directors and department heads – that we’ve assembled. These are some of the best in their respective fields, and I’m so proud of them and their commitment to customer service, developing the next generation of leaders, and for helping us move from the bottom portion of the list toward becoming an “employer of choice” for young professionals.
The next generation of leaders seems to have a strong desire to make a difference in their community. Bravo! And what better way to do that than by working on the City team?
Of course, there are other things of which I’m proud. Our Leadership Team’s decision to reinstate the employee wellness program (inBalance) in a bolder way than ever before, is one.
Another is the launch of the The City Ambassadors Program (CAmP). CAmP exposes our employees to the many aspects of being part of the City’s team. As the most functionally diverse organization in southwest Missouri, we have an obligation to show our team members the big picture, and also teach them how their jobs fit into the big picture.
I’m also proud of the Field Guide 2030 community strategic plan – both the process and the resulting plan.
Then there’s our economic development initiatives, the Neighbor 4 Neighbor program, our work to engage the next generation, our commitment to telling our story and connecting the dots, our focus on customer service, making our City more development-friendly through projects such as ePlans and our improved working relationship with Greene County. The list goes on and on.