By Anna Gruber
I accepted the position of city administrator for Pierz in 2009. I was 22 years old and only had one year of professional working experience under my belt. During this time, we were seeing and feeling the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.
The local government aid (LGA) from the state, which cities had relied on, was now being frozen or decreased. Resources for city staff were limited. Taxpayers were hurting and couldn’t bear any increase in property taxes or municipal rates or fees.
With the help of my Council and department heads, we began working to offer the same amount of services with no increase in LGA or the local levy. In the five years that I served as the city administrator, we never once increased the levy. We were able to continue providing services, maintain all employees, and ensure that public safety was never sacrificed.
Art of collaboration
How was this possible? I learned a valuable lesson early in my professional career; we did more with less—by working together. We perfected the art of collaboration.
We were able to do this by:
We knocked down walls, relied on each other, and deleted the silos that seemed to separate us from others. There was no other way to survive in hard economic times like we were experiencing.
A large silo that needed deleting was our dependence on ourselves. By breaking down the walls, we could build up the collaboration among other cities within Morrison County. With the help of the other administrators and mayors in neighboring communities, we began the Morrison County Community Collaborative group.
It began as a monthly meeting to simply get to know each other better. It grew into collaborative efforts on grant administration, staff time, equipment, and overall sharing of services. Awareness about our monthly meetings grew, and we saw an increase in attendance.
The group became a resource, not only for staff but for elected officials. We helped each other through ordinance amendments and requirements, personnel changes, road projects, reporting requirements, trainings for new clerks, referrals to consultants, and more. We also shared personal triumphs and tribulations.
For some cities, it involved sharing staff between two cities through various joint powers agreements. For others, it meant sharing equipment through shared service contracts. This group built each other’s morale and offered support in a career that at times, I learned, could be extremely stressful.
There are also regional collaborative efforts that have taken place to delete silos. The Resilient Region project, for example, began in 2011 and has grown to a monumental regional effort toward collaboration in multiple theme areas. It involved a group of local municipalities in central Minnesota, made up of Cass, Crow Wing, Todd, Morrison, and Wadena counties. Known as Region Five, this group came together to provide services collaboratively, instead of individually.
The Resilient Region partners work to establish community-driven partnership, assisted by various organizations focused on sustaining the region. The theme areas are housing, transportation, natural environment, and economic development.
Today, the Resilient Region effort has worked together to secure nearly $32 billion in funding for the region. Much of this funding would not have been made possible without the creation of the Resilient Region, a truly authentic collaborative effort of deleting the silos and working together. Learn more about this project at www.resilientregion.org.
There simply is no time for metaphorical silos in today’s age. The municipalities mentioned here broke down walls between organizations and found success and a lasting model. We all need to recognize that we must work together for the betterment of our communities.
Anna Gruber is manager of city and county solutions with the National Joint Powers Alliance (www.njpacoop.org). NJPA is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).
Read the May-June 2016 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine.
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