Listen and learn from the best in local government

At LeaderGov we want to equip you to lead well.   These enlightening podcasts, from top local government leaders, will help you gain valuable insights into a variety of leadership, management and teamwork topics, so you can lead better. 

You can also listen to LeaderGov Podcasts via Apple, Google Podcast or Spotify


Welcome, everybody to the LeaderGov podcast. We're so glad you're here. Whether you're a city manager or county official public works, police fire. It doesn't matter. We welcome everybody from local government. And we love serving you through this podcast. And we hope you're enjoying it as well. We have a great guest today. The chief of police, Marcia Harnden, and she is from Albany, Oregon, way out on the West Coast. Chief harnden. Nice to meet you. Good to see you.

Nice to meet you, too. Thanks for having me.

Yeah, you bet. We're so excited to talk to you about this interesting topic today, because we're coming into the first of the year. And as leaders, of course, we want to sort of hit the reset button and away and get ready for a new season a new year. And we obviously a lot of us do that when the calendar rolls around January one, we start thinking about what I want to do this year, what's important, what's my focus going to be? And so we have a couple of questions, we want to ask you about that kind of how you tee up the year and, and even what's important to you now in this unique season that we're in of COVID. And get into that just for a minute. Before we do all that just a couple of quick maybe more personal things I'd love to hear. Just very quickly, a minute or so tell us where you grew up. So we get to know you a little bit and maybe a little bit about your background in local government, law enforcement, so

forth. Sure, sure. I actually was a child of a United States Marine aviator, but he grew up in the Seattle area. But I was born in Southern California and moved various parts of the country, part of my younger life. And when my dad had finally got up there and rank and he wasn't going to fly anymore. There were sent him to Washington, DC. But he said I'm going to Washington but not the one you're thinking of and really wanted to stop having to move around so much. My older sisters were approaching junior high high school age and that stability was important. So they moved us back up to the Seattle area. And several than Bellevue Washington, which is just across like Washington from the city of Seattle. So I went to high school there, went to college at the best university in the world, which is the University of Washington, Go Huskies finish there. And I was actually going to teaching and really have strong interest there. And then I thought I was too small to be a police officer. I'm only five foot three. But I also have a pretty good knack for being able to read people in body language. So when I was working part time in retail, during college, I had this knack for catching shoplifters. So the local police force kind of grabbed me and and said you should probably you know, look at this nice Asher, you know, I will see what happens and tested in a couple of different places including Bellevue where I was living and got hired there. And I did 27 years at the city Bellevue left there in 2018 in the rank of captain did a very fortunate did a lot there. served in a variety of different units and things like that, but found that as that city grew rapidly and In the whole Seattle area just kind of got a little bit crazy with growth, and not that I was tired of the 90 minute commute and 60 hour workweeks. And so hey, I have a house on the Oregon coast, why not try down there and throw my name in the hat. And here I am. started back in in late January of 2020. And it's been an interesting, interesting ride, for sure. Really didn't get a honeymoon period as the chief down here at all.

Yeah, well, and how far are you all from the coast there in Albany, Oregon,

about an hour. So directly if anybody's familiar with where Oregon State University is? We're a neighboring city to Corvallis. And we're about an hour from the city of Newport on the Pacific Ocean.

Okay, yeah. Awesome. That's very cool. You know, I've never heard of a of a transition into public safety. You know, having been your ability to spot shoplifters. That's, that's a pretty cool story.

Yeah. The best part is I still get to teach and teach it a couple of different colleges. Um, small company where we do leadership training for public safety entities that can't afford the big, the big companies to come in. And, and so I get the best of both worlds, you get to teach and then still do law enforcement?

Oh, I love that. That's great. Well, thank you for spending a few minutes with us today, we really wanted to talk about how do you sort of tee up the year? What do you think about generally speaking, when this time of the year comes? Not really so much resolutions? Although I guess that could be a part of it. But from a leadership perspective, how do you look down the road? And so I'm just kind of curious, as you know, what do you focus on when you roll the calendar around to January one, and what types of things are important to you, generally? And then maybe what's important to you now with this unique situation that we're in?

Yeah, 2020 has been an interesting challenge. Obviously, I put together a short term long term plan when I came in in January, not seeing COVID At that time has been a major impact on public safety, which it has had a huge impact on public safety. And so that that kind of went out of the window, so to speak, but not entirely, because I still have, we're on a two year budget, I still have officers to hire, I always have to think that, you know, one year, three years, five years down the road, that hasn't changed. I still have to run a police department for years to come. But also how do we deal with what's right in front of us, which is COVID. Organization collective bargaining state, so we really had to reinvent labor law on the fly with COVID. Restricting time off, allowing leave banks to go over, forcing employees to stay home that might be symptomatic. Those are all new things. I'm very blessed to have a great relationship with our union here in the police department. And fortunately, have not had any written challenges. We've been able to resolve things internally, mostly because we work for a city that cares about its employees. So the long term stuff is still there, and I still have to look at okay, I know I've got five people retiring, takes us a year to get a police officer hired and trained, that works. So continues, I have a reduced system that has to be replaced the end of 2021, all of those financial, logistical decisions have to be planned for and made. So I have to prioritize around that. But then you also have COVID, we didn't know the immediate impact, the financial impact of State of Oregon, knock on wood has been minimal. Because it's a property tax state as a short lived impact with the first shutdown, or now we're in our second. So we're still around feeling that like sales tax states are Washington, they just got obliterated budget wise, because their sales tax just disappeared. So trying to make those adjustments, I held a couple positions opening open that I would normally fill right away, things like that. And also just trying to keep the overall morale up. I have young police officers that when I go out and look for bad guys, and for at least a month and a half, two months, in March and April, we told them not to do that. Because our jail is basically went into shutdown mode, you had to commit serious felonies to get in jail. And that hasn't really led up that much. So we're now paying the price for property crime going up and things like that. So it's kind of a two fold approach where I look at the long term planning and not making sure that I have staff I know that I've got a number of retirees coming at me and make sure that we're we're staying ahead of all of that hiring, while at the same time being Be flexible, our big motto of 2020 is being flexible and adaptive. Because the rules are constantly changing on us. The State of Oregon is coming out of a second freeze this week, and then county by county they'll be locked out in will be pretty locked down here in this area as well. So it's two approaches, I always come from a my people first, meaning that also means accountability. So making sure that we're following all the things we need to be following, particularly with the George Floyd murder that has had a huge impact on policing. So making sure I'm even COVID, keeping my connections with the community open and having open dialogue. So it's flexibility, but always keeping a long term plan in mind.

Yeah, you know, my next question is kind of kind of similar, actually. So this might all sort of bleed together. But if you had to recommend or suggest to police officers, or even a city manager or county manager, could be a Staff Director of Finance Director as, as they come into a new year. What types of big picture leadership things do you? What do you like to focus on again, generally, maybe not necessarily COVID that you might share with with the folks that are listening?

Well, I, when I took the job here, I knew that we were the city here was faced with a financial cliff. They have for the last few, extra couple of decades, funded growing government costs with one time funds like settlements and things like that. And in Oregon is very difficult to raise revenue through taxes. And so we knew that that had to be fixed. That was that was a short term fix a long term problem. So I knew coming into the job that we were having this cliff coming on, we're on a July to June fiscal year. So we've got six months left in the current cycle. come July 1, we're the city as a whole is looking at a you know, four and a half to $6 million hole that we've got to come up with. And now I make up about 33% of that budget. So you can imagine the impact to us. Now the we have random counsel on top of that. So I think it's it's when you go out and hard times like we have right now, it was hard before, but especially with COVID. And knowing that we potentially will ask for our community to pay more in taxes to keep Central Services. In it's not just a it's not a matter of money. It's a matter of capital and trust with the community. And police and fire we work on that every day. It's always particularly with social justice issues, we have to work on building trust, every single day, every contact is an ambassadorship for what we do. And so my advice is if somebody's approaching this next year, and you have the uncertainty of what COVID brings, or if we have an economic downturn, which we know that will eventually fill the impacts of is prioritizing what services we want to keep and then making sure that we're making deposits with Community Trust, if we have to go out and ask for more help from the public.

Yeah, so so big on priority prioritization becomes even more important is particularly in your situation, this thing about public trust? Could you just speak to that for a moment, and I know that obviously, we say public trust, we're talking about the public. But there's another side of that trust coin, which is trust among peers, right trust among one manager to another one sergeant to the other. So sort of internal trust, when you think about either one, and maybe they're the same? What, what sort of things come to mind, from your perspective that you can do as a leader to foster trust to build trust to equip others, so that it is a more trusting environment?

It's great question, when I came in and tested about this time, an extra year ago, this week, where I came in and tested here, and you could feel the the family cohesiveness of this police department that was that was strong, I would not have taken a job where there's a toxic culture, changing cultures, you know, takes three to five years in the best circumstances. So I knew that the culture here was fairly solid. These are people who volunteer to go out and do community stuff. These are people who go I'm out of stickers for the kids, I'm gonna go back to the office and bring it back to your neighborhood, that kind of thing. And they look out for each other quite a bit. But eventually that gets tiring but like with it, any Family type of unit, you're going to have your squabbles. And so my big thing I just went through my very first promotional cycle, Sergeant Lieutenant getting promoted. And we looked at ways where these people contributed in their prior positions in a leadership capacity, are they servant leadership, which is my style. I think that's the key to keeping government, people in the industry, particularly in law enforcement, is, are we promoting people that are going to take care of their people, which also means holding them accountable, but take care of them and make sure that recognizing this is a tough job? Are we looking out for their well being? Do we have a wellness program here, which was lacking when I came in, we're getting it started. So looking at those things, to bring our staff closer together. As far as more kind of regionally, the one of my first parties coming in is to build relationships and trust at three levels. Internally, with my staff, I still haven't finished all my one on ones, it's I mean, that is how busy it's been when employees. And then building a good partnership and trust with my internal director partners. And they're all going through the same budget problems that I am, and then reaching out making sure I have really good relationships with my law enforcement partners. Albany is in two different counties separated by a river. So I have two different district attorneys sheriff's on two different sides. And, and then a major university over there. So making sure that we're becoming good regional partners. And then also making sure I'm taking care of my boss and making sure his his bosses, the electeds are satisfied with our work. And so make sure I'm building relationships and teamwork on all of those levels. And so far, so good. I'm a big relationship person, I think you will not be successful if you can't make relationships work. And sometimes that means helping out your partners when they're in trouble.

Yeah, I love what you're saying about servant leadership. But it sounds like two buckets here. One is, hey, we have some things coming up. We know we have to deal with the radio system, whatever priorities that have to be dealt with, those are projects that say, and then we have people the other big bucket, and how do we engage people build up trust equity? How do we support teamwork and foster good relationships? And that's the people side of the business. And so often, we see this focus on the project, and less of a focus on the people and investing in those relationships. I'm so appreciative of what you're saying. Because without good teamwork, good camaraderie, a high level of trust, it just is so much harder. So yeah, great, great point.

It's very, very tough and law enforcement right now to keep people engaged, get people to come into the profession. We've been very lucky. So far, we've got some good hires that we've made this year. And that convinced a few people to stay around a few more months to give us that that cushion of support. And so and that just comes from relationships and making sure that we're taking care of each other within the city. Again, they, I tell them all the time, they probably rolled their eyes, it's every contact is an ambassadorship for what we do. So if you treat people crappy, that's how they think we all are, if you see people good, same thing, particularly if we have to potentially go out and ask for some more public assistance and new taxes. If we treat people poorly, why are they going to invest in us?

Yeah, yeah. I want to go back to the kind of the servant leadership point you made earlier, kind of final question for you. And it has to do with just any sort of story or history that you have, you know, being intentional in developing your team. And we know that one of the 10 pillars of servant leadership is, you know, growing people, it's investing in people. That's one of one of the big 10. And so, I was just curious, you know, from you, as you look back in your career, you know, where have you had some of those really cool breakthroughs with team members, where you've been really intentional about investing in the people around you, and you've seen them grow and that sort of thing?

High it's always kind of been a pride point for me to, to look out for my people. I've often I won't say often but on occasion been accused of being too close to my people. And my response to that has been, okay, I'm in law enforcement that that's kind of a needed ingredient these days. But also I asked, I said, Is there any part of my teams that haven't been high performing? And if they know that their boss is going to take care of them and back them up and things like that, and and hold them accountable when they need to? I I think the biggest pride for me is when I left Bellevue, there were a number of people that had worked for me or with me that were thinking really thinking, I'm taking some promotional tests, they liked the style, they had all the right ingredients have cared about their people. And since I've left, three of them have promoted, and so they're doing it spreading that same message. And when we teach leadership classes up in Washington State, I still teach up there often tell the folks up there, and I kind of quote Steven Covey a little bit is what do you want your legacy to be? My personal mission, part of the seven habits is you always come up with your personal mission, and mine is to leave the people in situation better than I found it. And so I really tried to do that. And knowing that there's good sergeants and captains up in Bellevue, to take care of people and be good servant leaders. That is a good legacy for me to leave behind.

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Someone said recently in one of our workshops, you know, that you're making progress and being a servant leader, when the people around you start acting like servant leaders? Yep. It's that almost the discipleship concept? You know, in the faith community, it's like, am I replicating all this good stuff? Or am I keeping it all to myself? You know, as we think about 2021, and coming up and looking ahead and setting goals, I just wonder if there might be any sort of final thought you might have for again, city county leadership, maybe it's a Police Chief Fire Chief, as they sort of point their compass for 2021. Is there any sort of underlying foundational element that you would, you know, that you might want to speak to, to our audience and share with them,

I think we sometimes in government lose sight of what our true capital is, and that human human means. We've provide services to human beings, whether it's storm drain coverage, or Parks and Rec, or fire service or policing, we serve as human beings. And we always have to try to remember that and make the make the best effort to keep the highest level of service 2021 will be a tough year, I'm hoping it's not one of those ones, where 2020 20 was like, Oh, you thought 2020 was bad here, hold my beer. I really hope it's not like that. But I, I'm, I'm not going to set the bar too high for 2021. Because I think we're gonna be in it for a bit. But I also think it's important to remember why it is that we are in government, we do provide a service, yeah, you may work in finance, or or that in NP. We joke here, that's not the sexy departments like fire and police. But you do it, we're all part of the same, we all and we all got have to work together. So don't lose sight of the fact that we we work in human capital business. And that includes our employees to one of the things I'm a fairly resilient person and take care of my wellness. But there are times where you can just feel the angst in the building. Last week, we could definitely feel it here where people are just very much over COVID very much over everything going on. The election didn't bring a lot of relief to people. So I think if we have to keep that in mind, too, that we have human beings that work for us. And we need to look out for them as

well. Yeah. Well, that's a great, that's a I think that's a wonderful way to couch it. Well, I want to tell you, first of all, Chief Harnett, thank you for serving and doing what you do. Just personally from leader gov to you, and thank you for leading the team. So well, they're in Albany, Oregon, and I really, really am attracted to and really appreciate this focus that you have this admiration and pursuit you have a relationship and building those bridges of trust so that when we need to have a hard conversation or need to ask for something from the citizens, you know, it's not that big of a bridge that we have to cross because the bridge is already developed. And it's just such a good long term strategy for life and leadership. And I really do appreciate your comments in that area. I appreciate you being with us today and taking some of your time. We know y'all got a lot going on out there. And thank you so much for for joining us.