Oswego's new administrator a 'team player' : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Oswego's new administrator a 'team player'|
|Jones: Good municipal government 'all about collaboration'|
|by John Etheredge|
The Village of Oswego's new administrator considers himself the newest member of the village's team.
Steve Jones, who officially began his new job as village administrator Monday morning, said his initial message for the village's 111 employees is that he is a team player.
"I'm not the kind of administrator that is autocratic or someone who dictates as to what the messages or the processes are, I'm a member of the team. I'm the leader of the team, but in effect, we are all part of the solution," Jones said.
He described his leadership style as "very collaborative-based."
Jones said he would like village residents to consider him an approachable administrator who respects the traditions of the towns in which he has worked.
"I really respect local government and the ethical expectations and professional expectations that come with the job. That's me," he said.
The village board voted 5-0 April 3 to hire Jones.
A Chicago native and current resident of LaGrange Park, Jones graduated from St. Ignatius College Preparatory Academy in the city and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in public administration, both at Northern Illinois University.
Jones started his career in municipal government as a budget analyst for the City of Naperville in 1981. He has worked as a village manager or administrative in five suburban Chicago municipalities dating back to 1988.
He worked as village manager in Glen Ellyn in 2008 to 2010; as city administrator in Oak Forest from 2005 to 2008; as village manager in LaGrange Park from 2000 to 2005; as village administrator in Lemont from 1991 to 2000; and as village administrator in Indian Head Park from 1988 to 1991.
Most recently, Jones has worked managing economic development and special projects for the Village of Carpentersville.
In Oswego, Jones succeeds Gary Adams who resigned as village administrator in March 2011. Since Adams' departure, Police Chief Dwight Baird has served as interim administrator. With Jones now on the job, Baird will return to his duties as police chief.
The board chose to delay hiring a replacement for Adams until after work could be completed on a new strategic plan for the village. The plan was finished and adopted by the board last November.
Jones said he believes the strategic plan will provide him and village staff with a "nice road map" to use as they manage the daily affairs of the village.
"One of the first areas I will be involved in will be to make sure we start the implementation phase of the strategic plan," he said, adding, "I think it's a great plan. It lists specifics and accountability as to who is running the particular goal or objective and it has some deadline dates."
Jones said he will provide the board with frequent updates on staff's progress toward meeting the plan's goals.
"My goal is to also put it (the plan) on our website so we can show the community what we are doing so we can keep them informed as well as our village board," he said. "I like the attitude that if we are working on some goals and we are achieving them that it's not something we talk about once a year or keep on a shelf and put it on a agenda, but it's something anyone can look at."
Service demands, limited
revenues pose challenge
Jones said he believes the biggest challenge facing the village is a challenge now shared by all communities: the poor economy.
He noted the village is faced with maintaining its high level of service amidst a "challenging revenue situation."
Though he did not officially start work with the village until this past Monday morning, Jones said between his hiring in early April and this past week he had attended a village staff meeting and as many village board meetings as his schedule would allow. In addition, he met with Dr. Matthew Wendt, the new Oswego School District Superintendent, last week and attended the Oswego Chamber of Commerce's annual Business Expo in April.
Jones said one of his first priorities is to "get around and get engaged" with members of the village's management team and staff.
"There are plenty of people who are part of the village team I have not yet met," he noted.
"In any community where you become a village manager or administrator you need to listen, to learn and you need to find out about the organizational culture," Jones said, adding, "Obviously any community that has gotten as far as Oswego has is doing an awful lot of things right. I need to learn the history of what people have done (here). I need to learn the motives of the elected officials and why they have particular positions.
"No one knows it all. It's all about collaboration. It's the collective intelligence; it's not an individual's intelligence. So there may be some areas where I have some expertise or intelligence-or know somebody who does and I can fill in some gaps that may exist at a staff level or at an elected official level," Jones said, adding, "Putting the resources together here with the needs is the key."
Jones emphasized, "The bigger picture here and at the beginning of any new job is to listen. Know what the heck is going on before you offer your advice, your opinion and your input."
After graduating high school, Jones said he enrolled at Northern Illinois University with the intention of earning a degree in geology.
"I entered college with the expectation I would pursue a science-based curriculum. Having grown up in Chicago, I had no concept of local government outside of Mayor Daley," Jones said.
But Jones found himself interested in local government after spending the summer between his sophomore and junior years working for the City of DeKalb.
"I did code enforcement," Jones said. "In a college town you have absentee landlords and all the junk from the semester gets thrown out and the town looks like a pit. The weeds get overgrown. They had this seasonal position which I took where my job was to try and keep the town clean."
Jones said he asked city staff members many questions about their jobs and local government while working his summer job and they, in turn, kept giving him more responsibilities.
"After a while I realized I was interested in local government and I ended up changing my undergraduate degree to political science and then went on to earn my master's (degree)," he said.
Asked if he believes this is a good time to be working in municipal government, Jones said, "It's not a question of whether it is a good time or a bad time, it's a challenging time."
Jones explained, "Revenues are drying up and the cost of services keeping going up."
He also noted that he has noticed a change in the public's "general feeling toward" government over the course of his career.
"I think the higher level you are (in government) the least amount of trust now exists," Jones said. "People know their local officials, generally. They know their village presidents; they know their school board members. I think people still feel best about their local officials because they see them, they know they are in the community and part of the fabric of the community and they care. But as you go further and further up the food chain it becomes this anonymous entity called the 'government.'"
The negative feelings that many people have towards the federal government have also "filtered down" to the local government, Jones said.
"It just tough because virtually every elected official I've know in every community I've worked in have tried to do the right thing and do all they can that is positive for their community," Jones said. "It's just some of the solutions are tough. No one likes to raise taxes or enforce codes, but these are things that are viewed as being the right outcome for the entire community. At times it is difficult for people to see that decisions are made for logical reasons and are well thought out."
Jones said the negativity directed towards government can serve to "lessen to some degree" the number of people who choose to get involved in their community, either as an elected official or a volunteer.
In addition, he said, the negativity can serve to deter young people from considering careers in municipal government.
"One thing I'm hearing in my profession now is that the number of students going into graduate school programs for city government is dwindling," he said.
'A passion for
Jones is the seventh person to serve as village administrator either on a full-time or part-time basis since the board created the position in 1991.
He said he believes that "good, two-way communication and respect" are needed for an administrator and board or city council to work effectively together.
"I think it is also the ability to agree or disagree in an open and civil manner and it's doing your homework and I mean that from the perspective of both the village administrator and the board," Jones said.
"Obviously, staff recommendations have to be based on good information and if we are doing our homework to meet the mark the board desires, we're going to provide them sufficient documentation for them to make their decisions," he said, adding, "The board also needs to review the material and be clear and concise in their direction."
Jones acknowledged it can be difficult when a board or city council cannot reach a consensus on an issue.
"When people are talking to each other and doing so with respect, that's more than half the challenge," he said. "The key is where are the commonalities? And how do you find areas where, if there is not clear-cut consensus, what area is there consensus and work from there."
Jones said he hopes to end his career in Oswego.
"I love what I do and I have a passion for local government," Jones said. "I tell my wife often that I have a high tolerance for ambiguity. Local government and government in general is ambiguous. If you are in a business, the bottom line is the bottom line. That's what you are striving for. In government, the bottom line is part of it, but there are services and there is public safety. There are ten ways to get the job done. It's kind of like taking this analogous concept of serving the public and figuring out what that means and then doing it.
"The fact that Oswego is a pretty dynamic community is the kind of thing that makes me interested in this position," Jones said.
"Oswego certainly gives me the impression-and I've heard it from everyone I've talked to-that they are wiling to try new things and really looking forward as opposed to looking backward and that's the kind of community is a good fit for me. It fits my style and my approach," he concluded.