13 CITY MANAGEMENT
Don Kratzer is the Director of the Department of Development for a mid–sized city, which is part of a major metropolitan area in the Midwest. While Don has been employed by this city in economic development work for 20 years, he is quick to point out that, "There have been big changes both in what I do and in the nature of economic development. You have to be able to change and adapt. If not, then the system can be quite unforgiving."
In 1974 Don began working for the City Planning Department. Interestingly, his degree background was an M.A. in nuclear engineering and physics. He had a natural facility with people, but no real training or education to prepare him for addressing the issues and problems of urban America. Nonetheless, when the Planning Department created an Economic Development Division Don was asked to head it up. Said Don, "It seemed that others felt I had administrative ability. I worked well with others. This, more than my knowledge of urban or economic issues, is why I was put in charge. It also helped that I had an advanced degree, even though it was in an unrelated field." The fact that he had a degree more or less added legitimacy to the appointment.
But, Don's academic degree provided more than minimal legitimacy. It also gave him experience in learning, and in learning how to learn. In an environment of change such a skill is essential. As Don noted, "We had to learn the business of economic development from the ground up." This is where Don's encounter with sociology begins. In the early 1980's Don began taking undergraduate and graduate courses in sociology, and eventually enrolled in a graduate Ph.D. program. According to Don, "I went into sociology at first simply to develop some job mobility. But as I took more courses in sociology I began to see the discipline as a way of better understanding the bigger picture of urban America. It has given me a handle on my own community, and has facilitated my interest in making a difference in my community."
As the Director of Economic Development Don is responsible for a wide array of functions. These include, but are not limited to community development, economic development, planning and zoning, building inspection, code enforcement, and maintenance of existing property. In carrying out these responsibilities Don oversees a staff of 65 employees. Management of this department requires all the insights organizational sociology can provide. According to Don, "Informal authority is often stronger than formal authority." And, the idea of "informal authority" is peculiarly sociological. As Don sees it, "Informal authority is a product of 20 years of experience, and most importantly, networking. You need to know and be known by the right people. This is just the way things get done. If you look at the work in narrow business terms then relatively little will get done. Sociologically one must be quite `open–systems' in approach. This is a real contributor of sociological theory to surviving in organizations."
Inter–departmental and inter–governmental relations are but one aspect of Don's job. When asked, Don divided his work into three parts. One–third of his time is spent administering his department. One–third is spent on large– scale development projects. And, one–third of his time is spent in direct contact with community and neighborhood groups dealing with local issues. Community relations is paramount because without grass–roots participation the objectives of urban development will not happen. "The citizens must embrace the problems as well as the solutions. Also, given that development is so politically connected citizens must be informed so that they can act politically."
One specific aspect of information for citizens is helping them see personal/neighborhood issues in community/structural perspective. What sociological theory does, notes Don, "is to help adequately `frame' the issue at hand so that we can actually address it." The problem is that so many times people's actions are unrelated to their objectives. The reason is that they cannot clearly "see" how they and their actions fit into the larger picture. Don's job is to help channel the desire for action into functional action, into effective goal accomplishing action.
To perform his work effectively Don suggests that basic sociological skills and insights are necessary. Data are always being collected through surveys, interviews and other forms of observation. And, these data must be processed so that it is meaningful and ultimately useful. In dealing with the public Don often has to practice the qualitative method of empathy. "I must put my feet in their shoes." By seeing issues from their point of view one can better respond to those issues. In so doing, Don and his staff are able to address one of the more important realities of modern urban centers, cultural diversity. Working well in a culturally diverse city requires great flexibility and adaptability. Says Don, "You have to find the most effective way to communicate your message regardless of your audience." Unfortunately failure is a reality, at least part of the time. "You must be able to handle frustration in this job. This means you simply have to find another solution. The problems of urban life have been 200 years in the making so solutions are not likely to be easily found or easily implemented. But this is our challenge, and sociology is excellent preparation for the task."
There is a tendency, however, for students trained in sociology not to be prepared for the "hard edge" of non– academic work. While sociology provides a "great critique" on society "we must translate that critique into real world action." Therefore, according to Don, "I have to be able to condense the theoretic framing process into a one–page policy statement for departmental action. Most academic sociologists simply cannot do this. By the time many academics could get around to a position on some issue, the issue itself may have changed. We need real–time solutions to real–time problems. But, if you can make the adjustment, then the urban scene provides a great opportunity for the discipline."
Given that cities will continue being a part of our society, the discipline of sociology will continue to have a field of contribution. Don sees many important opportunities for those students of sociology who can make the transition to non– academic settings. Entry level positions as mid–level managers require research and project management skills. This level of work now pays annual salaries of $30,000 – $40,000. With the Ph.D. now in hand Don, as a department director, earns approximately $60,000 – $65,000. "Yes, a living can be made," according to Don, "but perhaps more importantly, I believe I can make a difference in my community."
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