Elk Grove’s City Manager, Laura S. Gill, and Mahatma Gandhi have one thing in common: a fondness for community service.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” 

“I couldn’t agree more,” says Gill, who has served as the city’s manager since 2008.  “I chose to work for local government because it is close to the people it is designed to serve.”

She says each day presents an opportunity to make a difference for the City of Elk Grove and its residents.

“I enjoy getting to know the community and hearing their voices directly, knowing that decisions and improvements we make at City Hall have a direct, substantial and immediate impact on the residents we serve.  It has always been my goal to never to let the process of local governance become more important than the product.”

Great Strides

In terms of successful efforts thus far, Gill says, thanks to the collective efforts of the City Council and the City of Elk Grove’s staff, Elk Grove can enter the next fiscal year with a balanced budget that does not compromise the current service levels that residents presently enjoy. For example, despite an unprecedented economic crisis, public safety and other fundamental services will remain at the current levels.   

She also can’t speak highly enough of the improvements made at City Hall.

“We’re making processes easier, reducing fees and providing existing and prospective businesses with more resources than ever before.  One bright spot of the economic downturn has been the opportunity to slow down, catch our breath after a period of rapid growth, learn from the past and make improvements for the future,” she says. 

Usually she says she finds the most challenging moments of being City Manager centered on personnel.

“In managing any large-scale operation, there are tough issues to work through related to employee relations, separation, labor negotiations or tough budgeting between departments. However, I find that the most rewarding moments arise from tough decisions and I’m blessed to have a great staff here in Elk Grove,” she says.

Elk Grove, she adds, is a city with tremendous opportunity, particularly in the area of economic development, and things here can only get better.

“We’re home to many untapped entrepreneurial opportunities and are well-positioned to rebound from the downturn and correct our jobs-housing imbalance.  Despite a sagging economy, three major healthcare providers continue to invest and plan for expansion in the City limits.  The City was recognized as one of the nation’s 50 wealthiest communities with at least 100,000 residents, according to a recent Bizjournals report.”

Currently, one out of every 10 residents is a state employee that drives 30-plus minutes to work on a highly congested highway. This fact alone is clearly an opportunity for more state agencies to relocate to the city, she says. 

“… And the City currently has hundreds of thousands of square feet of professional office space, moderately priced and awaiting employers looking to take advantage of our well-educated highly-skilled employment pool.  That’s fertile soil for when the market rebounds,” she notes.

Some Tough Times

However, while the City of Elk Grove may be one of the wealthier cities in California, it has had to contend with quite a few issues so far this year.

It can go without saying this has been a difficult budget year for the City of Elk Grove, the State of California and the entire nation, Gill says.

“Everyone and all jurisdictions are facing the same struggles, so we are not alone. More than in past years, we have had to work harder to create a budget that meets the City’s goals while maintaining excellent customer service and high levels of service – all while maintaining a balanced budget,” she says.

This year, Elk Grove had to reexamine its priorities and take a hard look at the City’s programs and service levels for the upcoming fiscal year. With the foresight of a projected $4 million budget shortfall, it launched an extensive public outreach program during the winter that brought the community together to discuss budget priorities. 

“We wanted to ensure that our taxpayers understood our budget, and that the fiscal year 2009-10 budget reflected the needs and priorities of the community.   Within a month, representatives from the Elk Grove City Council and City staff met with residents in each of the City’s five council districts. For those not able to attend the meeting, or not comfortable with sharing viewpoints publically, we developed a survey that was published in the local newspaper.  The survey was also available on the City’s Web site.

“We were able to hear from a cross-section of residents from throughout the City.  The feedback from the public helped shape overarching goals and determine priorities for the upcoming fiscal year budget,” she continues. “It also promoted transparency to the budget process.  We collectively learned that a little outreach can go a long way, and have received kudos from residents for the opportunity to have their voices heard.”  


Foreclosures have also had an impact on many of the city’s communities.

“But what is inspiring to me is that we continue to see neighbors helping neighbors, and taking charge to protect our community.  Elk Grove neighborhood groups are partnering with City leaders and Code Enforcement and Police departments to address foreclosure-related issues. In fact, several neighborhood associations have taken it upon themselves to ensure that yards of foreclosed properties are being maintained, and residents will mow overgrown lawns in their neighborhood,” she says. 

The City has formed strong partnerships with community leaders, and together has found solutions to address the issues that stem from foreclosed properties. 

Homework Is Key

She says the most effective elected officials “do their homework on policy issues and listen before making decisions,” and she might know since she has had a 22-year career in local government.

Once the policy decision is made, the effective elected official “trusts but verifies” that the appointed staff is implementing the policy decision, she says.

“The most effective officials also take the long-term view of the policy decision, even if it risks their political careers,” she says.

For example, in Durham, there were two members of the City Council that voted to issue certificates of participation to build a new Triple-A ballpark.

“They were subsequently defeated in the next election. However, that new ballpark was the spark that ignited the renaissance of the Complex. The decision they made continues to pay off handsomely 15 years later,” she says.

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