Lemmie at 'Em

Dayton, Ohio, City Manager Valerie Lemmie is as tenacious regarding the use of technology as she is with bringing the city's vision to fruition.

by / September 30, 1999 0
Dayton, Ohio, City Manager Valerie Lemmie could have chosen to work in government, or to get on track to become president of a national organization, or to serve on the board of Public Technology Inc. (PTI) or to become an adjunct professor at a university.

Any of those options would have helped her groom the next generation. But Lemmie chose to do them all at the same time -- now. "I think it's very important for us in the profession to take responsibility to ensure that we train and develop staff in our organizations and provide them opportunities to enhance their contributions to the community," she said. "It's also important that we work with students to encourage them to take positions in government because this is the most rewarding of all professions out there."

Lemmie worked for the city of Kansas City, Mo., as chief of the Independent Monitoring Unit and project director for the Integrated Services System. She was also director of the Department of Environmental Services for Arlington County, Va. Lemmie worked for the federal government, including a stint as the deputy director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, until she felt a strong desire to return to local government.

She then spent four years as city manager of Petersburg, Va., a city of 37,000 residents. This lasted until August 1996, when she grabbed the reins in Dayton, a city of 200,000 residents, 16 city departments, 3,000 full-time employees and an annual budget of $800 million.

Lemmie served as an adjunct professor at Howard University and currently holds a similar post at the University of Dayton. In October 1997, she was appointed a senior fellow for George Washington University's Center for Excellence in Municipal Management. The following September, the National Academy of Public Administration Board of Trustees selected her to be a fellow.

Adding to her busy schedule, she serves as secretary/ treasurer of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) -- and is on track to become its president. Lemmie is also about to end a four-year term on the PTI board as a representative of the International City/County Management Association.

But Lemmie is quick to observe that while the elected officials in Dayton have tremendous vision and commitment, they have also been very supportive of their manager, allowing her to teach, to be active in the NFBPA and remain involved in international issues.

One of those international issues is an official sister-city relationship that Lemmie signed in June in Sarajevo. "It had tremendous significance for us in Dayton because we were known as a city of peace, and tremendous significance for Sarajevo because we are one of the few cities that has been with them not only through the peace process, but
also through their rebuilding process. So the commitment of friendship in addition to peace was just so moving."

Lemmie also has a commitment to the city of Dayton, and she was interviewed a few weeks after returning from her overseas journey.

Q: Talk a little bit about CitiPlan 20/20 in terms of what you are doing, or can do, as a city manager to at least provide the services that people expect.

A: One of the things that I think is really important is to have a vision of what your community wants to be, and that vision then guides you into what services and functional responsibilities you need to achieve or accomplish in order to meet that vision. We did our 20/20 plan based on a visionary
document developed by our city commissioners with six quality-of-life indicators. Those indicators were the vision of this community. If we accomplish all of them, we will be the kind of community those of us who live, work and play here want. And, from that, we get into what are the service priorities we need to have? What are the land-use privileges? What are the expenditures that are going to be required? How can we best make appropriate choices, given that nobody will ever have enough money to do everything everyone would like to see?

By having a vision and a set of values -- knowing how we're going to get there and where it is that we're going -- and then a set of very specifically articulated performance measurements or standards or objectives that allow you to measure, every year, your progress and meeting your goals.

That's what we've done in our community. We have said that as an organization, for example, we must invest in economic development. We must find the resources, then, to leverage development the private sector for industrial and retail purposes. But we must also find money to leverage for housing upgrades, housing enhancements and new housing developments.

Absent an agreement on the vision about what the community wants to look like, it is very difficult to choose between a neighborhood or a downtown -- a basic service vs. an enhancer.

Q: You used the term "enhancer," so I'll throw technology into the mix. It's no surprise knowing your interest in technology that in every facet of CitiPlan 20/20, there is a technology component.

A: Absolutely. The wonder of the times we live in is that times are changing dramatically through the capabilities that are now available to us through technology. We can literally put a chip in a vehicle and know exactly where that vehicle is at any point in time.

More importantly, if we are connected to all of our integrated systems, we can alert the vehicle that there is a traffic jam over here and to go on another route. "On this street, traffic is moving well. This is the best way to go to get you to the landfill. It's the cheapest on gas and it will get you back on your route collecting the trash in the neighborhoods."

It's just marvelous to know what you can do with new technologies. Governments are usually not on the cutting edge. We usually let the private sector test it and make sure it's been thoroughly debugged, and then we incorporate it. But it does really change the quality and the character of the work we do. If you can now have a trash truck that has an automated lift and one driver, and the traditional truck had anywhere from a driver and two to three helpers, that dramatically changes the cost, best practices and performance.

Q: Those three elements are parts of the foundation of PTI. How important has it been for you to serve on PTI's board?

A: It's important for me because it allows me to grow and to learn what's possible. Part of what any manager has to do is to be able to add ideas: some that are possible and attainable, and some that are visionary and you're going to work toward. Knowing what the best available technology is, who has applied it, how they have used it, how successful it has been is very important--particularly in a midsize city like Dayton. We're not going to be the first out there to try something that is brand-new. But if Phoenix, Charlotte and San Francisco have done it -- because in my role with PTI, I've seen the application, the benefit, enough to know that a financial investment in the new technology will garner returns that are appropriate to our community -- then I can make a recommendation and demonstrate the value of that recommendation to the elected officials and our citizens.

If you don't know what's going on in the world, you are already one step behind. This is a very competitive environment. Years ago, the competition was often sort of nation to nation, now it's really city-state. Our companies can literally be any place in the world and our companies in Dayton literally serve the world market. So if we can't provide an environment where it's more cost-effective and there is a quality and a value of life that it's worth it to be here, they will relocate. And without companies, we don't have the jobs to sustain the quality of life that we as a community demand.

Q: That's a statewide belief. Outgoing Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka said his goal is for his city to dominate the Ohio Valley. But he also said that if Ohio's major cities collectively focus on economic development, Ohio could make a major impact.

A: Absolutely, and just to give you an example of how that application can work at the local level, Dayton is fourth in the country in the number of tooling and machining companies that are in our metropolitan area. Absent tooling and machining, there is no widget that is produced. They are critically important to the global economic growth that we are experiencing.

Right now, if you are an entrepreneur or an innovator, you've got to shop around to various tooling and machining companies to figure out who can produce that widget for you. We have an idea for a Tool Town campus, where there is research and development.

From any place in the world, if you want to figure out how your invention can be applied in a market perspective, you come to Tool Town. We will have tooling and machining representatives that complement one another and collectively produce your widget. As this industry grows and expands here, there is a cadre of people to take on jobs for the future.

For us it's real and it's in our comprehensive plan.

Q: This covers economic development, a major focus of the CitiPlan 20/20.

A: Absolutely. We have three major economic-development themes in our CitiPlan. One is Tool Town, because of all of the jobs and training opportunities that are possible. Another is Airplex, because we have an international airport and the headquarters of Emery Air Cargo. We believe that the location of a cargo industry, right in the heart of the Midwest, with all of the manufacturing that's done here-there's tremendous growth of market opportunity there.

Lastly, we have a lot of abandoned sites laced throughout our community. During the old days, when Dayton was built, people walked to work so they lived near the company they worked for. We have these companies that have now moved on or they're out of business and the facilities are still there. They're contiguous to residential neighborhoods.

It's our plan to do a linear industrial park where we create a buffer between the natural barriers of an industry and a neighborhood, and we market a linear environment, rather than a more traditional, campus-style environment. That, for us, is certainly ambitious. It's certainly expensive, but it will improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods and also provide development opportunities for smaller businesses.

Q: So you are enhancing the mindset that technology is important in your community.

A: Without a doubt. Remember, we've got Standard Register, Lexis-Nexis, NCR and quite a few high-tech companies. More importantly, we have Wright Patterson Air Force Base, one of the largest, or the largest in terms of production, Air Force bases in the world, and it's a research and development base. They are researching composite materials and other new technologies. Our state and our region have invested in research and development opportunities for those technologies and created an environment for them to be applied in a market-consumer perspective.

Q: How are public-private partnerships involved?

A: We strongly believe that Dayton will not have a renaissance looking at the local government to finance it. It truly has to be a regional partnership. It can't even be a city business. It has to be a county, all of the jurisdictions that are part of the suburban ring and the businesses -- both city and suburban. It's really exciting for us.

We have under way now construction for a minor-league baseball stadium. In addition to that is a redeve- lopment project that will complement the baseball stadium and provide for more active and passive recreational uses in its first phases, and then for more jobs, housing and commercial activities in its later phases.

The Riverscape project has been supported financially by suburban communities. It's a project between five different areas and levels of government, from the transit authority to the city and county government, to our metro park group and to the conservancy district -- which has the responsibility for managing the waterways in the region. This is the first time -- and the private sector is included -- all of these partners have come together. It's a $25 million project and $8.5 million of that has been raised by the private sector.

We have a performing-arts center and a mixed-use, hotel-office housing complex, a $120 million project jointly being funded by the county, the city, other public partners and the private sector. If the city had to find $120 million to build this kind of project, we couldn't do it. We don't have that kind of money. We don't have that kind of borrowing authority.

Also, it's not going to be a good facility if only 200,000 people go to it. It's got to be one that attracts the million-plus people in our region -- that's our economic vitality. I feel fortunate that we have a region that generally agrees that downtown continues to be, and should be, the core of our commerce, our entertainment and our culture -- and that everybody is willing to finance our redevelopment.

Q: I'm guessing that, because you are involved in this, technology plays an important role in your plans.

A: Absolutely. To give you an example -- I'm from St. Louis originally, and when you think of St. Louis, you think of the Arch. One of our great identifiers of this Riverscape project is a fountain that will have water shooting 200 feet in the air that will, in essence, redefine our landscape and create an identity for us like the Arch in St. Louis and others have in communities across this country. Can you imagine the technology involved in shooting water up 200 feet? So even something as simple, at one level, as a fountain, it's new technology that will effectively allow us to do that.