Am I too Professorial to Serve on City Council?

Last Spring I applied for the open Oshkosh city council position but did not get it.  During the application process I gave a short presentation on my qualifications to the other council members.  I was told by some folks in the know that I came off a bit too professorial. It is reasonable feedback, my day job is in fact a professor of public administration.  But what does it mean to come off as too professorial?

I hear that critique as code for, A) He’s too detached, B) He’s never had a real job, C) He only knows what is in books about government, and D) He thinks he knows everything because he has a Ph.D. Here are my responses to each critique:

He’s too detached

My interest in serving on city council flows directly from my experience serving the community.  My service on the Plan Commission has given me a unique appreciation for the need to balance economic development with good land-use decisions.  Every two weeks I get to meet with a wonderful group of people and make consequential decisions regarding the future of Oshkosh.  It is a real privilege, and has been a great learning experience.  Every month I get to attend meetings of the Long-Range Finance Committee.  This might seem less exciting than Plan Commission, but it gives me firsthand experience in dealing with the city’s finances.  I also have the privilege of serving as the President of my Neighborhood Association, a position that connects me with the unique needs of neighborhoods, and has taught me that what neighborhoods want and need is not always the same as what the overall City wants and needs.  It too is a learning experience.

Less formal but no less important are the non-official things I do in Oshkosh (i.e. the fun stuff!).  Chatting with people after church, battling it out on the softball diamond or the tennis court, or simply talking to people while fishing (hard and soft water of course)…that is the good stuff.  The reason I’m running for office is because I love the people of Oshkosh, it is a great place to live work and play, and I want to keep it that way.

He’s never had a real job

I have a Ph.D. in Urban Studies.  This is true.  But I earned that degree while pursuing a successful career in public policy.  I worked full-time as a Researcher, a Vice-President of Operations, and a Research Director at two Milwaukee-area nonprofits while attending graduate school at night.  My career exposed me to politics, state and local government, and the real challenges facing Wisconsin communities.  More importantly, my career helped pay the bills while my wife and I started our family.  I made a conscience choice to switch careers after finishing school, and it is a choice I am glad I made, as Oshkosh is a great place to be.

He only knows what is in books about government

Those who cannot do, teach.  We have all heard the cliché.  Here is what you may now know about the program I teach in.  Our classes are all on Saturday because almost all of our students are working full-time in government and the nonprofit sector.  Yes, we have textbooks, but much of my teaching is applied work directly connected to the real challenges facing government in Wisconsin.  Public administration is an applied field, meaning my classes are designed to have a real-world impact, and to help students advance their careers.  If I get to serve, I will bring this applied expertise to my position.  Expertise alone does not make me qualified to serve, but it is an asset I bring to the table.

He thinks he knows everything because he has a Ph.D.

I know nothing!  Ok, I know some things.  I have hard skills in budgeting, data analysis, policy analysis, performance measurement, board governance, and Wisconsin government.  These areas of expertise are my day job.  They help pay the bills.  I think my local government expertise is a unique attribute that I can bring to the council.  I think that is a good thing.  But I do not think this qualifies me to serve as a council member.

I do not know everything, but I do know how to listen, and how to communicate.  I know that serving as a council member means representing everyone in Oshkosh, which requires listening and communication. I know that Oshkosh’s greatest asset is its people. We are diverse in age, race, ideology, and even in our values.  But we are all here because Oshkosh is a great place to live, and we all have a stake in the future of Oshkosh.  I want your support because you share my vision of Oshkosh For All.  What does that vision mean?

  • Every Oshkosh resident has a stake in Oshkosh’s success
  • Every Oshkosh resident has a right to be heard
  • Every Oshkosh resident has a right to know what their government is doing, why they are doing it, and whether they are doing it well

For more specifics of how I will implement this vision, to!


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