USC Price School of Public Policy

SPPD Students Host Panel of Diverse City Managers

Knowledge in Action:

SPPD Students Host Panel of Diverse City Managers

By Cristy Lytal

Multicultural City Managers Panel Alhambra city manager Julio Fuentes, left, former Irvine city manager Allison Hart, Hemet city manager Brian Nakamura, Monrovia city manager Scott Ochoa, and Salinas city manager Artie Fields
Photo by Tom Queally

Do top city administrators reflect the growing diversity of California’s communities?

On Feb. 10, student associations from the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development invited five alumni panelists to address this and related questions at “Cultivating Diverse Leadership: The Emerging Face of City Management.”

The panel included city managers Artie Fields (Salinas), Julio Fuentes (Alhambra), Brian Nakamura (Hemet) and Scott Ochoa (Monrovia), as well as former city manager Allison Hart (Irvine). Kristie Hernández, who is pursuing a Master of Public Administration and certificate in public policy, moderated.

“Most cities operate under the council-manager form of government where the city manager is actually appointed through the city council,” Hernández said. “The city manager’s function is to serve as the chief administrator of that city. I see it as being the president and CEO of a private company, but in this case, for a city. So the city council sets the policy and direction for the city, and the city manager is in charge of implementing those directions.”

Held in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Forum, the event was sponsored by the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, the Graduate Policy and Administration Community, the Association of Black Students in Policy, Planning, and Development, the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, the Latino Association for Policy, Planning, and Development and the City/County Management Fellows Board.

Master of Public Policy student Angela Denise Rosales initiated and organized the event with the help of student representatives from the sponsoring organizations — Joe Guerrero, Cherie Romar, Alex Osorio and Edward Ng.

“Many of our classmates want to go into executive-level municipal management, and we’re a very multicultural group, and our communities are changing,” Rosales said, “so we felt we should put this kind of program on.”

Guerrero agreed that “the face of city management is changing, and we’re the new generation who wants to go in, so we’re really going to learn from people who are in the role right now.”

The panelists began by describing their unique career paths. Fuentes moved up the ladder while working in a variety of cities, including Cypress, Pomona, Azusa and Monrovia. Nakamura’s journey included stops in California cities, including Winters, Riverside, Banning, Reedley and Sutter Creek, as well as Oregon City, Ore. Fields also served in a variety of cities — Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena, Pomona, San Leandro and West Covina.

Fields explained, “I had a great mentor who told me, ‘If you want to move up, what you’re going to have to do is move out. You really need to get wide experience.’ ”

In contrast, Ochoa got an internship in Monrovia while he was an undergraduate and stayed with the same city throughout his career.

“My advice to you is start wherever you can possibly start,” he said. “As an intern or as an analyst … do the job. And do it in a way that people will remember you for it.”

Hart took a more circuitous route to the city manager position, doing everything from working at a district attorney’s office to founding a river rafting company.

“You can be a city manager with a rather offbeat path to the top,” she said. “My main thing is go get skills, go get experience and it doesn’t matter where.”

The panelists explained which skills were essential to succeed. Ochoa emphasized communication and critical thinking skills, while Fields reminded the audience of the importance of the “whole likability factor.” For Hart, the key quality of a city manager is the ability to see the field and encourage long-term community investments.

“When you look at a community, you should be looking at a CEO level, minimum 20 to 25 years out,” she said.

The panelists agreed that in today’s workplace, opportunities abound for talented, hardworking individuals of all backgrounds.

“I would tell you, without a doubt, things have improved for women and minorities in terms of hiring and opportunity,” Fuentes said. “Many of you are going to have tremendous opportunities. It all boils down to experience and quality of your experience.”

Ochoa pointed out that California’s new demographics automatically are creating more diversity in city executive management, although Hart added that “you do have to be clear in an organization that you want to hire from all perspectives, all interests, all walks of life.”

In one of the panel’s many thought-provoking moments, Nakamura challenged the audience to expand its definitions of diversity.

“I don’t think about color or race or religion,” he said. “Those aren’t the things that interest me. What interests me are core values. We have a very diverse core group in our organization, and by that I mean not just male, females, Japanese, Asians, Hispanics. If we look at diversity today, it can mean so many different things.”