Kimberly Kerr has held many titles over the course of her 17-year-career in local government, but serving as Ione City Manager for the past 22 months is a first for her.
Ione is a small city located in Amador County, roughly 45 minutes outside of Sacramento in the foothills.
Her previous roles in local government are quite diversified ranging from Coroner Investigator (2.5 years) and Risk Analyst (2.5 years) in Solano County to Risk Manager/General Services Director/Deputy CAO (10 years) in Humboldt County. She also has 8.5 years in the Army as an enlisted Military Police Officer.
“I enjoy working in local government because I am able to see the outcome of the services provided. There is a direct correlation between the interaction with the citizens of the local community and the services provided. I have enjoyed my transition from working for counties to the city,” she explains. “I have always enjoyed politics and started my fascination with political science in high school. I did not plan to be a City Manager or even a Risk Manager.”
Her journey started with the desire to pay for college by joining the Army to assist with getting a college degree. She obtained my undergraduate degree while in the Army and gravitated toward criminal justice and business. Kerr enjoyed the journey and gained a greater understanding of the principles of a Republic and democracy through service and law enforcement positions. Her Master’s degree in Public Administration has reinforced her experiences in the Army and her beliefs.
“The relationships I have developed with other local officials and the citizens have been wonderful and they keep me going,” she says.
Learning the Ropes
Kerr’s various positions in the counties have exposed her to different philosophies of elected officials and she has come to understand how some make their decisions and why.
“I believe that most citizens, including government employees, do not understand how the government operates at all levels and we need to do a better job in educating them to that process,” she says. “There is more to the process than how a bill is adopted as we learn in civics in high school. We need to do more to reinforce that our society requires participation of the electorate in the process to make it work effectively.”
She also believes that local government needs be more transparent and explain the decisions of their councils and boards. For example, she stresses that there needs to be more collaboration between agencies to provide an efficient use of taxpayer money and the character to determine what services the citizens are willing to pay to have.
“Whether elected or appointed, officials need to spend more time listening to comments made by the citizens and ensure they are all heard and not just the vocal few or special interests,” she says. “We also need to realize that change occurs in small steps and improvements will not happen over night.”
In addition, Kerr says the government employees, elected and appointed officials need to understand that laws and rules apply equally to all. Fairness and no personal gain are mandatory for those employees, elected and appointed officials, she says.
In other words it is key that officials “remember that we are here for the community and not ourselves.”
“Our role is to protect the resources of the local community and provide the required services as requested from those citizens. To accomplish this goal, both elected and appointed officials must continue to listen to the citizens and not just special interest groups,” she says. “We can only do this through the day-to-day activities and not just one or two special issues.”
During her past 22 months as City Manager, Kerr does believe she has made some in-roads including being able to open up communication lines and to step back from the past and build relationships going forward.
“This can only happen through conversation and transparency, which I struggle with daily,” she says.
As for how Ione has been coping with current issues such as unemployment and a poor economy, Kerr says not bad at all. She says mostly because Ione is in a better position than some jurisdictions due to a smaller reliance on sales tax and the continued new home sales in the community.
“The City needs to make adjustments due to the increase in rising costs for employees and services with the possible reduction in property taxes for the State to resolve its budget deficit,” she says.
It has also been reducing and/or bidding purchases for the lowest price, limiting capital purchases for only necessary repairs, and restructuring departments to garner salary savings.
“We are evaluating additional modifications to the City’s organizational structure, delaying purchases, and the potential for impacts to employees by lay-offs, additional department restructuring, or furloughs,” she explains.
Interaction is Key
But whether she is having a good day or a not so good day, Kerr does say that the most challenging, as well as the best part of the job is its variety and her ability to interact with all departments of the City of Ione.
“Based on the City’s size, we are limited in management staff and that requires more hands on by the City Manager. I have always enjoyed variety and learning processes and trying to improve them to provide better service,” she says.
As for what is ahead for Kerr and the City of Ione, she says she is extremely interested in empowering communities.
“Empowering communities for me, is through defining the role of local government and indicating how we can help the community along with defining the role of the community to help itself,” she says.
“There is an on-going debate about how much the City needs to be involved in on various issues, but also the desire for the City not to control or dictate the process. We must develop a better understanding of the role of government and develop the private-public partnership to ensure sustainability for programs and ideas.”
Another issue she says that is on-going in Ione is its cultural diversity.
“It involves more than race and socio-economic issues,” she shares. “In smaller communities, there becomes a divide between the long-term residents and the new residents to the community. We must help overcome perceptions and develop an ability to capture the essence of all members of the community to enhance the community and its ability to survive. The most important thing is the communication among all groups and that we understand the needs and desires of all members of the community.”
The writer, Debbie L. Sklar is a 20-plus year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. She is a regular contributor to PublicCEO.com and may be reached via e-mail at DLSwriter@cox.net