Carson City city manager candidates share ideas on stress & conflict coping skills
April 6, 2014
The City Manager Advisory Committee video is now available via public access television for the entire eight hours of questioning. Written analysis from advisory panel members is expected to be up at carson.org by this weekend at the latest. The city’s Board of Supervisors will review such input, decide on April 17 whether to interview all five or cut the pool, and conduct board interviews on May 2.
City managers face stress and conflict, which prompted interest in questions about those twin troubles and related matters when Carson City’s five candidates for the role were interviewed by a citizens’ committee.
Males all, they said the dealt with stress through fitness, sports, man’s best friend, realization and the like. The quintet faced the question of conflict and related matters, meanwhile, with a range of reactions and examples.
In this article on the group seeking the city’s executive city government leadership post a synopsis of their answers will come in reverse order of the way the City Manager Advisory Committee reviewed the candidates Tuesday. Occasionally pertinent background research will be added to expand on the remarks. The five are Jeff Fontaine, Nick Marano, Tim Hacker, Stacey Giomi and Jim Nichols.
A great family and staying fit provide Fontaine with ways to cope with stress, he told the panel. The current executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties said he works out, both indoors and outside, citing hiking, biking, time on skis and the like in a bid to keep himself in tune. As for conflict, it depends on the situation.
“I’m not afraid of conflict, but I think there’s a time and place for it,” he said when asked to talk about a time when he avoided it. He gave a couple of examples during his lobbying role dealing with others at the Nevada Legislature. They were times in which he stopped short of conflict, he said, despite a different impulse.
Fontaine, formerly deputy director and director at the Nevada Department of Transportation before taking over at NACO in 2007, also told of times when he faced disputes with contractors and had to make tough decisions about Interstate 80 work in Reno and Interstate 580 work on a bridge between Reno and Carson City. He said he forged ahead and backed his NDOT people in such situations.
“You’ve got to stick by your people,” he said.
Fontaine showed he knows government is collaborative soon after taking over at NACO years ago in comments about local government home rule issues and whether the Legislature was interested in tackling that.
“There was a lot of agreement that this is an issue that needs to be looked at,” he told the Las Vegas Sun in 2007. “I don’t know that there is necessarily resistance as much as this is a very complex and comprehensive issue that just takes time.”
Marano, a former Marine colonel and now head of a consulting firm, said he handles stress by being a runner and believes in conflict resolution by building trust and working on collaboration.
“I’m a physical fitness zealot,” said Marano, adding quickly that’s the only thing about which he is zealous. He said he runs a lot, using it as a time to mull matters, and he also spends much time outside the office dealing with various employees at ground level.
Marano, who until 2012 oversaw Camp Pendleton in southern California and was in Iraq earlier, gave examples of his collaborative approach regarding development at Pendleton and with people in Iraq who didn’t trust Americans initially. He used an example from service in Iraq to show how he works with people not under his command, likening it to elected officials or others outside a chain-of-command situation.
“I got everyone in a room on a weekly basis,” he said, to focus on goals. “There’s only one team.” He also said though he’s a detail person, he doesn’t micro-manage people.
Marano said he had 4,000 civilian employees at Pendleton, so his experience dealing outside a chain-of-command situation is considerable.
Marano also talked about a situation in which he fought to keep crosses on a hill at Pendleton because it was a memorial rather than a religious site. The battle came after some questioned if it violated separation of church and state principles. Marano took on the controversy on behalf of Marines.
“This wasn’t intended to be a religious memorial,” Fox news quoted him as saying two years ago. “It was just intended to be able to provide a fitting and a dignified memorial to their fallen comrades.”
Hacker, former city manager in North Las Vegas and Mesquite, said his physical fitness efforts include fishing and other outdoor pursuits, as well as basketball and lifting weights. He was asked the question about a time he avoided conflict.
“I don’t do that very often, unfortunately,” he said, but immediately said he does it by de-escalating conflict situations and focusing on common goals via an open dialogue.
In Mesquite, he said, when development people weren’t always on the same page and a sign ordinance prompted controversy he helped “let the air out of the balloon” by allowing temporary signs in more circumstances for those pushing them.
In North Las Vegas, where he resigned last year after a political administration change, Hacker had faced a no confidence vote by the Police Supervisors Union in part due to his contention that unions couldn’t expect to keep unsustainable contracts agreed upon during better economic times, according to the Las Vegas Sun. The new mayor, however, credited Hacker with helping stabilize things during difficult times.
“City Manager Hacker has played a critical role in a very difficult chapter in our city’s history,” said Mayor John Lee last August.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Hacker had to make cuts to deal with a $33 million budget shortfall in a recent year.
Stacey Giomi, along with Fontaine a city manager candidate from Carson City, said relieving stress for him relies on his sense of humor, recreation and taking in the occasional Reno Aces baseball game. Among his recreation pursuits is outdoor activity, including walking and interacting with his Labrador retriever. Giomi, a 30-year city staff veteran and the fire chief for several years, didn’t leave out relaxing with a favorite libation.
“A glass of wine doesn’t hurt either,” he said.
When it comes to conflict and dealing with people, Giomi talked as did other candidates of collaboration or building relationships rather than being confrontational. He said it is best to “sort through what’s fact and what’s emotion,” working toward middle ground and keeping in mind government work is people-oriented. He also said that’s easy to say, sometimes tougher to do.
He didn’t back away, however, from acting as chief or chief executive. “But I’m not afraid to pull rank and make a decision,” he said.
His application cover letter had cited cross-disciplinary work, balancing other tasks along with being fire chief and avoiding problems. “During these processes, teamwork was the hallmark for many of the projects that I’ve participated in,” he wrote.
Regarding circumstances involving employee organizations, Giomi cited his background over time on both sides of bargaining tables. He cited knowledge of the intricacies such potential for conflict in negotiations as “a strong point of mine,” but didn’t volunteer specifics.
Nichols, until recently assistant city manager in Midland, Texas and formerly deputy city manager in Las Vegas, said he is a fitness freak and a boot camp fitness-style advocate to deal with stress. It keeps him physically and mentally fit, he said. .
Angling to return to Nevada in part because his mother lives in the state, Nichols not only is loyal to her but to the sports teams from his Massachusetts upbringing. He roots for Boston’s baseball Red Sox and the New England football Patriots. He also said he is a trading card collector, noting he has a baseball rookie card featuring Ted Williams with which he refuses to part.
Among Nichols’ conflict avoidance and organizational knowledge techniques are using transparency as a calling card, collaboration as a philosophy, and occasionally working in the trenches with employees under his supervision to keep in touch.
“I pride myself on my people management skills,” he said.
He also touted regional cooperation over conflict as he told the panel about dealing with drought in west Texas. He said three communities banded together and a NewsWest9 TV website story from West Texas affirmed that with a Nichols’ quote. “It was just an ideal partnership,” Nichols said. “Everyone was dealing with similar issues because of the drought.”