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Well, we are very excited about our podcast today. Thank you for joining us. My name is Bill Stark, and I'm one of the cofounders of LeaderGov along with my partner, Tim Fenbert. And we are just excited that you're with us that you're taking the time to invest in your leadership as a local government leader, whether you're a supervisor, manager, or a department head and in a county in a city. You know, we just thank you for being here and taking a few minutes to invest your time. The topic today is so wonderful, because it has to do with this idea of politics and how do the employees in particular, you know, work out how they're to be a part of the political process that goes on and local government. So we just love this topic. And, and we're so excited. We have a great guest today. Angela Sheppard with us. And she is the Deputy City Manager for Gainesville, Georgia. How are you doing, Angela?
I am great. So thank you very much for asking me to come on. I'm excited about this. Yeah, I
know. For our listeners, just a bit of background on you. You've been at Gainesville, almost 14 years. You're the Deputy City Manager and the population again, Gainesville is. How big would you say population?
We're about 43,000? People? Yeah, that population. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't tell you our daytime was probably more like 150,000 people.
Okay. Yeah, substantially bigger. And prior to that you were the administrative officer at banks County, which is here in Georgia. And by the way, we're talking about Gainesville, Georgia right now. Florida. Thank you. Yes. And then prior to banks County, you were a regional planner with one of the regional Commission's here in Georgia. So you really been involved in local government for a long time and probably seen your senior fair share of politics. You know, one kind of trick question I had for you, as we get started. Tell us what your favorite vacation place is, or something about your vacations that that you like, so we want to get to know you a little bit personally here.
Yeah, no, I appreciate that question. And I really, you know, I'm kind of a city geek. I love public places and public spaces. So I enjoy visiting. A lot of different cities and towns have really tried to visit a lot in the United States on have done Boston and New York and Chicago and San Francisco when I'm taking my kids in just a couple of weeks to DC. So really hitting some of those spots. And then, you know, and I love seeing the European cities, you know, have done London and Paris and Dublin and you know, Lucerne Switzerland. So just all sorts of exciting things. So So I guess I walk the walk of loving of a city life. So I really enjoy just those experiences.
Yeah, that's a great I really liked that. You know, it's there's a certain if cities do it, right, if counties do it right, you get kind of a vibe, right? You get a feeling when you're there. That's right. And it's, there's a sense of community a sense of places as people call it now. And it's really neat that you're able to enjoy that. And then of course, have your children also kind of see the beauty and all of
that. Yes, I love it. And especially, I mean, if they're doing some things, well, I love stealing ideas and bringing them back to Gainesville, and how can we implement? So for sure,
yeah. Yeah, yeah. Well, we're talking about navigating politics today. That's kind of our big umbrella topic. And, wow, there's so much good stuff here for us to talk about today. And I'm, I'm excited about this, because a lot of the staff people that listen to this podcast get entangled in, they brush up against political situations all the time. And, you know, I just don't know of a really good explanation actually, for helping equip. Folks. I'm hoping in this podcast, people can pick up, you know, a couple ideas to maybe better navigate that process. And so I want to just first by say, first asked by saying, you know, what, why don't we all sort of cringe and roll our eyes. Talk about people playing politics, you know, it's kind of like a dirty phrase almost. Yeah.
Yeah, it absolutely is a dirty phrase. I mean, it has a real negative connotation because I think it's this feeling that you know, that that we are leaving any sort of sense of rationality right that we become into an irrational space, we're no longer going to do the right thing, logic and reasoning don't have a place in playing politics, it becomes, you know, this thought of it's the powerful making decisions for the powerful. So it definitely has a negative connotation about it when you think about playing politics. You know, but but really, in local government, you know, I think of the politics that we deal with in a very different realm. And try to think about ways that we can navigate through that. So we don't necessarily have to get caught into that negativity. But to think about how do we do what we need to do within this realm?
Yeah. And when you say, you just mentioned this phrase, navigating politics. So let's, let's kind of dig into that, you know, what do you mean, when you say navigate? Do you mean, navigate away from it and avoid it? Or do you mean, you know, deal with it appropriately, when it comes into your area? Or what does that mean, in your in your world?
Yeah, so 100%, what you said a deal with it appropriately, when it when it comes into your area? So, you know, navigating it is, you know, I've got to have an awareness. So I need to understand that I'm in a political situation. And I need to think about how do I accomplish what I want to accomplish what the city wants to accomplish, what the county wants to accomplish? How do I accomplish those things? You know, is there a way I can help the citizen or the elected council member or the business, whoever it is that I'm kind of in this political situation with? So it really is thinking about? How do I get through this situation in the best possible scenario? Yeah. So that's when I talk about navigating that certainly what I think of.
Yeah, and we should have a disclaimer here at the beginning, right? Not all politics is really bad. Right?
Yeah. Because I mean, really, you know, going back to that thought of playing politics, you know, I think why people do cringe and roll their eyes is that people think, okay, it's a departure from doing the right thing, right. But truly, in navigating politics, you can wind up in political situations where there isn't necessarily a right thing. It's not a right thing or a wrong thing. There's no clear answer or clear path forward. And so we are Yeah, we aren't talking about it from a negative connotation. We're not talking about it from ethical dilemmas, we're just talking about how do we deal with situations when there are competing interest and no clear outcome or no clear path forward?
Hmm, yeah, yeah, I know that, I was fortunate to be able to hear you give a little bit of a talk almost like a training session, to some of the Gainesville employees on this topic of politics. And it was really, that's kind of what originally spurred my interest in this podcast was, it was just chock full of all sorts of practical ideas, and even kind of the origins and the purpose of politics. You know, there's some, there's some good stuff there. And so could you kind of go back and kind of rewind and tell us, you know, to help staff, or, you know, their public works, people listening and, you know, animal control and community development. And at times, obviously, these staff members have to present at a city council meeting, they have to give a presentation in public where a council member might be there. Yeah. And so help us just kind of go all the way back to like, the overall purpose, you know, why is it the way it is? Sure.
Yeah. No, that's, that's very good question. It's a big question. You know, and I think about it, and I think about local politics, kind of where it all comes from, and really, you know, you have kind of, you know, different entities involved. So you have an elected official, most of the time that, you know, is is part of this political process. And really, you know, what I tell people is elected officials, they are people so they are citizens that have been elected by citizens to represent them. So, they definitely have an interest in being responsive. They have an interest in helping fix a problem. They want to accomplish goals. So they are there for a purpose and you know, in every Body, they, they have people in their lives that they want to please. And that is not bad against local elected officials, because we all have people in our lives, we want to please right, like, I want my mother happy, you know, I want, um, you know, whoever it is I want my coworkers happy on. So everybody has people that you want to please. Um, and then you also have the citizen. So you have a citizen that is interacting with government in some way. And this can be a citizen or business kind of, they're the same entity and this, they're interacting with government in some way, they're there to they need something for government, or they would like to get something done. So whether they're there for a permit, or maybe they are there to, you know, build something or, you know, they are there because they have a situation at their home. And a lot of times the citizens, they don't necessarily know the local government processes. They may not care about the local government processes, they're just trying to get something accomplished themselves. And now you have the employee, which is, which is us, which is we represent and make up the local government, you know, and we are there, we're trying to work within our certain parameters within our policies. We're responsible for kind of managing the finite resources that we have as a local government. And so I think politics really comes into play when you have, you know, these three areas, and they're competing interest. And it's not necessarily any interest is right, wrong, or bad or good. They just don't marry up nicely. Yeah, right. I think that's where it kind of comes from. So these are, as I call them, they can they can be sticky situations that people get into that really, you need to have an awareness about. And that's kind of where I think some of the crux of local politics comes
from. Yeah. Thank you for that, you know, I have kind of an unscripted question here that comes to mind that I hear about all the time, and I would love for you just to kind of ponder it. So you have citizens who call the council person, Commissioner, whatever, and raise a ruckus about a pothole on the road, whatever it is, their issue is they didn't get their licensing permit, whatever. And all of a sudden, now, the whole staff of this department is getting calls from the commissioner from the council member, hey, you know, and it raises, it rises up in priority, because the council member said, it's important. And I know that sometimes the staff feels like, jerked around like, Okay, what's my priority today, and so that the staff kind of has to be super nimble and react. And now Miss Smith is at number one, Miss Jones is number one. And yet at the same time, I think the staff has to understand, hey, you know, this is kind of the way it is a little bit, you know, you got to be flexible. Yet yet. On the other side of that coin, Angela is seems like the commissioners and council members maybe need to temper their promises a little bit, right? Because if they say to the citizen, this has to be fixed today, or they will be fixed today. If they say that then now they go to public works and making public works, jump. So there's this conflict, it seems like can you kind of speak to that a little bit? Yeah,
no, I think those are, those are great points. And I think a lot of it depends on the magnitude of the request. I mean, you're 100% right, there are things that happened like I will start Monday and I'm very much of a list person. So I make a list I have a running list. And I will make a list like what are the things I need to do today, nine out of 10 times I don't make it on my list because new things pop up and that's kind of the nature of it. Um, but it really becomes kind of this this magnitude of what is it that I need to do and address? I tell employees sometimes I have a little I have a little saying that says just pick up the toilet. And it's a bizarre saying but I want to put that into a little context. We provide solid waste service for the city of Gainesville. So our solid waste crews are out there all the time picking up trash. And there are things we do not pick up so we do not pick up when you know remodeling or when renters are moving out whatever on it. toilets are on those lists. We don't pick up toilets. But there are times that a council member will call and say, you know, Miss Edwards has a toilet that, you know, she put out there, can somebody pick it up? Now, I could spend time having a whole conversation with the council member about how it's against our policy and why we set that policy and what Miss Edwards needs to do with it. But you know, Miss Edwards is seven da lives along, and she doesn't have anybody that can help her with the toilet. So, you know, so it becomes this whole, how many people had to get involved, right to have this conversation with Miss Edwards? And at the end of the day, nobody feels good about it. I don't feel good. Tell them Miss Edwards, no, counsel doesn't miss Edwards doesn't feel good. You know, sometimes we just say, just pick up the toilet, like it's done. You know, it's a one time thing, it's not that big a deal. We were there anyway, let's just handle it and move on. There definitely are bigger issues, 100% bigger issues that can't be dealt with quickly. Or that can't be dealt with, because we don't have the resources to deal with them. Or because there are, you know, 15 other cases that are similar. And it's going to be hard for me to deal with this one, and not these other 15. And that certainly is when a process of educating the local elected official comes into play to say, I want to help in this situation. But here are the reasons that I cannot, or here are the reasons that, you know, are making this difficult. And sometimes you looked at local elected official will either help you sort through it. Most of the time, the the elected official will say okay, I understand, and sometimes they don't. And that's when you have to rely on the remaining local elected officials to kind of help temper and manage that. But it is great question. And I also tell our employees, our greatest cheerleader at the city is our local elected officials, when they are happy, they are out there singing our praises in the community. They're talking about how good the local government is how well the employees are doing how hard we were. And you know, if you can get that accolade by just filling that pothole, just picking up the toilet, then let's just do it and move on.
Yeah, yeah. So some of this just has to come with the job, you know, come with the territory, and that's fine. And we are we are public servants after all right? Exactly up to keep that that attitude of servant, a servant heart, right, a certain political servant. Well, I wanted to kind of end with this. Something that you had shared in the workshop that day, when when we get into these political situations that are kind of sticky, uncomfortable, we're not clear on where things are coming from, we're being called into something that's a little uncomfortable, sticky, as you say, could you just give the staff people listening? You know, some ways to maybe handle themselves? How do you? How do you respond when things get kind of not weird, but you know, get kind of political in nature? If you had a couple of tips, you could you could share? That would be great.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think about it from a standpoint of, you know, how do I how do I kind of handle myself personally, and then how do I handle myself and in public? You know, we, we all are our people, and we all will get frustrated by things that happen or how quickly we need to pivot or, you know, we all have that. You know, so certainly, you are allowed to be frustrated, but you need to be frustrated privately, and you need to be frustrated only with people that you can trust that that you know, you can speak to and then you need to be able to let it go and kind of move on. On you know it, it's always about being professional as well. You know, it's unfair as it can be for local government employees who you're we are the employees of the local government, no matter where we go. So we are always kind of on whether we're not on duty, we're always watched and people are aware of who we are. So just be mindful of that for sure. Um, you know, I tell people it's certainly important to be honest Just to be very honest with the local elected officials, if they catch you, or the public catches you, we're You haven't told the truth or you haven't been up front, you know, your, your credibility just goes down the toilet. And, you know, that's hard to recover from, um, and, you know, really talk about being upfront with people, you know, I try not to let things fester, you know, to really have some difficult conversations that that needs to happen to just say, this is where I'm coming from, where are you coming from, and try to meet somewhere in the middle, you know, publicly, I think it's very important, and this is hard, but I do think it's public. Publicly, you have to be a political, you know, especially when it comes to the local government decisions that are being made. You know, it's, you certainly are entitled to an opinion 100%. But I keep my opinions to my family, my closest friends, you know, you're not going to read it on my social media page, what I think about the latest rezoning application that came through. And that seems so obvious. But as I go through local government, I am really kind of amazed at the number of employees we have sometimes that don't understand that. But it definitely is being a political, it's really, you know, back to kind of this personal thing, it's really trying to, to recall it stay in your lane, you know, to be sure that you're not spreading rumors, spreading information, you know, focus on you and your task and what's going on. You know, I, I, I certainly have enough to worry about in my realm and people that that Vinter outside and a whole bunch of other things, I'd say, Well, I think they need more to do. They obviously have enough work going on. Um, you know, so it really is kind of those tips. You know, and then it's also thinking about how do I handle people that are outside the organization? So not just myself? How do I really handle other people? And that's a that's a whole other topic of how do I deal with some difficult situations and conversations with people?
Yeah, I just want to repeat what I heard you say, because I think it's just gold. And, you know, again, for the people that are listening, as I mentioned, we have, you know, supervisors of Public Works listening to this podcast, we have city managers, department heads, and maybe even you know, you could share this with your, with your entire team at a staff meeting sometime, because this is just gold. And I'll see if I captured this right, Angela, share your frustrations privately. I heard you say, so let's let's not put this on Facebook. Let's get with our neighbor and, you know, go sit in the basement and yell at each other that that's, you know, let's not let's not do it in public. So, vent on someone that's trusted, I think that absolutely let it go, you know, let it go. Now let it go. The grievance has to end at some point. So and life's not fair. You know, sometimes, it just doesn't work out your way. You know? And then you said, being professional, we're being watched. You know, you're right. When I go to the grocery store, sometimes if I see someone with a city shirt on, whether it's a public works, or parks lady or guy got, you know, sometimes I got asked them questions about the city, right? Hey, when you're gonna finish paving that road out there. I'm sure I'm bugging the stew out of them. Right? They don't want to talk about paving the road at Kroger. Right, but But you know, they should remain professional. Right. That's courteous, but you know, inviting and welcoming and rather than, you know, frustrated, I liked that professional. You also said, rumors, you know, are the staffs job is not to make things worse. That right in the bud, and as we get rumors out there, that's just not being professional. You said Be honest. I love what you said about recovering. It's hard to recover when you're not honest. And so even if there's a half truth, or you left something out that you should have included, if you get exposed, which that happens. Yeah, you just got to come clean, right? Is that kind of what you're saying? Yeah, absolutely. And then you said up front, be upfront, you know, yes, you can share your post spective but you know, be up front kind of share, share where you're where you're coming from this thing about a political, I wanted to just maybe touch on one more time. I'm a little slow a political means I don't espouse my Democratic or Republican interests, let's say I'm a Democrat, vote D. And so if there's a policy of the city or county, that I don't want to believe we agree with philosophically, I kind of need to keep that quiet. Right. And again, I can rant and rave with my next door neighbor in his basement. But, you know, this isn't the thing we put on Facebook. And I think in our we have kind of a little more divisive culture today. Yes, where people feel empowered to tell you how they feel about everything. And I get that, but sometimes we gotta just tone it down as city employees. Right. You know,
that's right. And it is, I mean, that can be difficult. And like I said, and that can maybe feel unfair as a city employee. But I think that's one of the things that kind of comes with the territory, you know, you have to make a decision of this is this, you know, something in the culture that I can live with. And so while I may not be able to publicly kind of state where I am in a policy, I also get the trade off of helping to implement and crafting. So I definitely have influence over how the city handles situations and how the City manages situations, I definitely can have some conversations individually with like local elected officials and say, Can we talk about this for a second, because here's a perspective I'd like for you to hear or here is a concern or a thought. But when it comes to the public, we as city staff are not the ones that are elected to have the the political opinions, that is the elected officials, they are the ones that have the political opinions. And so I very much believe, you know, we stay apolitical in that. And we're just there to carry forward the decisions that they have made.
That tried. And the distinction I hear is, yes, if you're engaged politically, as a city, county employee, that's great that your life go after it. But the minute you put that uniform on the minute you act in any capacity as an employee of the city, we do need to be apolitical. And that's kind of the dividing line. That's right. That's right. Yeah. Well, this has been really, really awesome. I want to thank you for just putting a spotlight on this. You know, it's, I think, as we started in the very beginning, this whole thing about playing politics, it just, it just has, I think maybe an unnecessary negative connotation to it. That's right. We love our elected officials. I mean, they are representing us, they're doing the best they can.
They really are people. They're real. They are people. I mean, they really are I have I have worked with a lot of local government, elected officials, and they, they are good people that are, you know, drinking from a firehose and trying to figure things out. So yeah, they really are just people.
Yeah, and I love this, this list of, you know, ways to respond. When political situations come up. And again, if you all that are listening, want to share this with some of your teams or staff feel free to we would love that if we have time, somewhere in the future. Angela would love to, maybe reengage you on a couple of, you know, maybe just like some specifics like, hey, if this happens, you know, what, do you do some examples?
Yeah, that would be great. I'd certainly have you know, probably two more hours worth of conversations about this topic. I mean, it's a broad topic right? And so that all local government employees deal with every day, every day.
Yeah. Hey, I want to let you give Gainesville a plug, you know, you all are beautiful city. Anything new going on at the city, something y'all have been working on a while. That's kind of exciting. I know you all for people outside Georgia. You are in and around Lake Lanier, which is a large reservoir and a recreational lake and so you've got that going for you which is pretty cool. But just tell us a little bit about Gainesville and maybe something that's that's happening, new in the community in the last year or two.
Oh, great. Okay. Well, I'm excited to plug Gainesville always happy to do that. Well, I tell you if you have not I've been to Gainesville, we definitely would love for you to come. Our Town probably in the past four years has has completely transformed itself. So we have a lot of new downtown residential that is open and then some that it's under construction on that new downtown residential is paving the way for a lot of new restaurants in our area. So we have had several that have opened up and more to come. We have a new building right on our downtown square that has seven new retail businesses. We have an entertainment venue that is in the process of opening. We have a new parking deck for all of the all of the city geeks like me, for our downtown parking, new streetscaping. And we are working hard on a trail that takes you you mentioned like linear bill builds that trail goes from Lake Lanier and one of our parks through our downtown to an area of town that that we have really pushed a lot of redevelopment out to and will eventually connect all the way to the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus. So that whole trail is in process. We have added playgrounds and lights and it's an open container area for a lot of the trails. So we have a brewery coming just lots of activity. So we'd love to have anybody visit us.
Yeah, thank you. Thank you for sharing some of that. I know there's a definitely a resurgence. And downtown's here in the United States and Gainesville is is right on the cutting edge of all of that. So that's really, really great to hear. Well, thank you. You know, we enjoy our work we do with Gainesville, and we love you all and care a lot about your, your team. You'll have some fun, fun employees doing a really good job. And so thank you for your leadership. They're in the city and spent really super having you. Yeah, share a little bit about politics today. Angela, thank you for being with us.
Well, I appreciate the opportunity, Bill. Thank you.
Yeah, have a great day. For the listeners. Any any ideas that you want to have for future podcast topics, please just let us know. You can email us at support at leader gmail.com. In the meantime, hope you have a great day and we'll talk to you real soon. Thank you