Letter: Where has the time gone?

Max Royle, City Manager
City of St Augustine Beach

Dear Historic City News readers,

The year 2021 marks my 45th year in the city management occupation. From that perspective, now may be an appropriate time to share some occupational observations.

Here are two of many lessons I have learned during my career in public service.

Believing that a staff member without degrees cannot be a competent department head.

In a previous city where I worked, I hired a police chief and a fire chief.  In both instances, I looked for candidates with a college degree. In both instances, the person I hired from outside the city did not serve their department well. After a respected citizen suggested I consider hiring from within, I found in each department a long-term senior officer without a degree who was dedicated to serving the community, knew their respective department’s strengths and weaknesses, and was willing to remedy the weaknesses. They each proved to be excellent department heads.

Assuming can be a slippery slope.

Maybe managers use assumptions more than they should because time is limited, the tasks are many, and assuming can be a convenient shortcut to getting the work done. For example, did Employee X understand the instructions for a particular project? I assume they did until I get a report from them that shows otherwise. I blame myself for not making certain the assignment was clear by verifying with the employee, well before the report’s deadline, what they were to do.

Shall I offer some advice?

After my 45-years, I guess I could be licensed to dispense advice to aspiring public managers like an aging pharmacist of philosophy. In 1974, when I was a student in the University of Kansas’ public administration program, the long-time, former city manager of Kansas City, Missouri, advised my class that public managers foremost need a sense of humor and a thick skin to cope with the inevitable barbs of criticism that will be hurled at them.

To which I would add:

  • Take the long view concerning problems, that is, don’t sweat the small stuff and know that today’s “sky-is-falling” issue will likely be next month’s faint memory
  • Remember why you’re a public manager — which is to serve.  Not to inflate your own ego, not to play power games, and not to get rich at the taxpayers’ expense
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate with the citizens, the employees, the City Commission, and other governmental agencies. City Managers have summarily been shown the exit because they’ve not returned (or had a staff member return) phone calls or emails (letters in the old days), or not kept the members of their elected board informed about matters significant and otherwise.

My “most memorable” event

My most memorable meeting occurred in 2001 when the City Commission had to decide whether our fair City should keep its small, mostly volunteer fire department or contract with St Johns County and its far larger, professionally trained department.

Development and population growth in the City of St Augustine Beach required the decision. The room was packed with residents who vehemently demanded that for the sake of its “identity” the City keep its department.

Despite the strident clamor of the crowd, three of the five Commissioners showed firm and true leadership by approving the contract with the County. They realized it was not in the financial best interest of City taxpayers to be burdened with the incredibly significant labor and other costs of operating a 24-hour, 7-day a week, modern fire and rescue department. It was far better for the City, and its 3,000-plus taxpayers, to be included in the County’s fire district and share paying the department’s costs with the district’s tens of thousands of taxpayers.

By the way, the City’s identity is still intact — and strong.