This is a question I asked a City Manager during my final (one on one) interview in 2006 for a Finance Director job.

He told me I was one of two finalists for the position. After an hour of meeting together, he asked me the usual final question of the interview, “do you have any questions for me”?

I told him I did have one question, “why would I want to come work here”?

The City Manager’s face looked confused. Actually, he seemed insulted that I would ask such a question. In fact, he thought I was arrogant!

It was as if I was supposed to feel like I was “the lucky one” in this employment relationship.

And it was a good career opportunity. This City I was interviewing for served a population of over 150,000, but I had always worked as Finance Director for Cities with population under 100,000. Thus, if I intended to incrementally grow in my professional career to serve larger municipal organizations, I definitely needed to land this job.

But I said to myself during the interview, “you need to remember, you are just as important to the City Manager (and the organization) as he is to you and your career”.

I did not want to take a job working for a boss who did not recognize he is competing for me, for my skill set, just as much as I am competing for the career opportunity he was offering.

I think Millenials today recognize the mutually-beneficial employment relationship better than us Baby Boomers. And as we see more Millenials in leadership positions in City government, I expect we will see a change in management style towards more open, participative organizations. Only time will tell.

Nevertheless, I did NOT land that City Finance Director job in 2006. In retrospect, 14 years later, I am glad I did not land that job.

I have enjoyed almost 30 years working for “smaller” City governments with populations under 50,000. The “hands on” experience of a small-City Finance Director can be more enjoyable, and it allows you to keep your hands in the details of the books in ways you cannot do in a large City or other municipal government organization.

Needless to say, within a week, I landed the Asst General Manager job at the Fallbrook Public Utility District, which, by the way, lacked the “excitement” (dare I say, politics) of a finance job in a full-service City.

I have an entire CitySpeak article that I will post to discuss my experiences in a single-purpose Special District, and compare and contrast it to a full-service City government organization. Watch for this article in the coming months.


I have worked in City government during several economic downturns since 1990. Yet regardless of the economic climate, I have done my best to pursue and retain only positive employment relationships and career opportunities.

My advice to you, especially younger ones, is that you should never sacrifice your happiness, health, or family for any amount of money or career opportunity.

Of course, there have been times in my career when I did have to endure a very difficult boss and/or toxic work environment for financial reasons. We all have, right?
And I believe I have done my best to contribute to creating the best work environment for myself and for the good people with whom I worked. However, if the situation became too stressful to manage through, I eventually moved on, doing my best to “not burn any bridges”.

We work for political organizations in City government. There is no sugar-coating that, and we public administrators are trained to be politically-savvy without being political to succeed in our position.

There are many good municipal organizations to work for today with strong, good leadership, from the top down. This allows us to succeed in our public service careers as City Finance Directors or other public administration careers. We just need to put our trust in our training and education, always following professional public management standards and ethics.

Always get involved with municipal professional organizations for your specific career path.

In California and throughout the country, there are excellent professional development and training organizations that prepare you for success in the most important career of public service to municipal organizations and the communities they serve.

Personally, I am thankful to CSMFO, GFOA, AICPA, MMASC, PARMA, League of CA Cities, and many other organizations that helped me prepare for and continue to succeed in my career during my 30 years in municipal government. I was not the best at networking through these organizations, but I did benefit from all the training and education from those who came before me.

This is why today I share my career experiences “candidly”, especially with younger ones who are looking to follow, or are following the career path I have enjoyed during my professional work life.

A career as a City Finance Director is challenging, hard work, but the rewards are great. I urge anyone who is interested in this career path to email me at John@munitemps.com or call me at (866) 406-6864 ext. 101 so I can share more details if you’re interested.

Frankly, I am at a point in my career where I don’t do stress anymore. And I can ONLY thrive working for City Managers who value diversity of ideas and allow for a participative team environment.

We Finance Directors may be nerdy CPA types, but we can be creative too!

What do you think?

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