CHANGE IS IN THE AIR – MOBILIZE MARSHALL

By Ron Munden

By Ron Munden

I think many will agree that over the past 10 years I have written more critical articles about Marshall than anyone else.  I hope so because that has been my goal.

In 2006, I was appointed Project Manager for the Tourism Task force over the objection of then City Manager Frank Johnson.  This is the only time that I worked on a City project.  The entire experience was less than perfect but there was one incident that convinced me that I should not waste five minutes working with the City.

By 2007, the Task Force had selected a contractor and the contractor had provided the first deliverable.  They provided a list of 54 best practices that should be implemented in preparation of the detailed tourism plan that was the final deliverable.

I was confident that we could complete these 54 items during the 6 months that we would be waiting for the final plan.  Before returning to Marshall I had worked for the Department of Defense {DoD} for over 30 years and most of that time had successfully managed a variety of projects.  Based on that experience I wrote a web-based project management software package based on proven project management techniques.  The software provided tools for managing the implementation of each task and just as importantly it provided transparency so every citizen of Marshall with a web-browser could review the status to the project whenever they wanted.

I loaded the first set of data into the software so I could demonstrate it to the Task Force.  At the next meeting I provided the demo.

The software included all the standard project management date like:

. Item due date

. Item completion date

. Responsible organization

. Responsible person

. etc.

I was shocked at the response to the demo.  Assistant City Manager Janet Cook explained that was not the way that we did things in Marshall.  She explained that the city did not assign specific due dates. When Marshall developed a project plan, due dates would state, “to be completed in the 2nd quarter of next year.”  And most disturbing, I assigned responsibility for completing a task to a specific person.  The City would never do that.

Finally, she said that she thought we should sit back, take some deep breaths and do nothing until the contractor provided the final report because the contractor might change their minds on these 54 best practices during the next six months.

The Task Force voted.  All the city employees on the Task Force voted to do nothing.  A couple of hotel representatives on the task force agreed.  The other private sector representatives voted to proceed.  It was a split vote.  I decided not to push it.

In Ms. Cook’s brief three-minute description of how Marshall managed projects, she described a system that violated every project principle that I had been taught in my 32 years in DoD and my three years at Booz Allen Hamilton.

That was the day that I gave up on Marshall successfully completing any project.

The Task Force did nothing during the next six months.  On the night the final tourism plan was approved by the City Commission, the City Manager announced that he was abolishing the task force.  Using Marshall’s “breathe deep and do nothing” project management system, the City spent over $3 million dollars of Hotel Occupancy Tax money and accomplished nothing.

The City has used those same techniques during the last 10 years on the yet to be completed Memorial City Hall renovation project.

For over ten years I have felt that Marshall was hopeless.

But starting in 2019 I feel CHANGE IS IN THE AIR.

Saturday’s “Mobilize Marshall” meeting validated this feeling.

I think many strategic plans are as worthless as the paper they are printed on.  In Marshall’s case I would substitute “always” for “most.”  But that was the past — today I feel different. 

For the first time since I returned to Marshall, I heard magical words coming from a Marshall City Manager’s mouth.  Words like “accountability”, “measurement”, etc.

Also, based on my brief observations and conversation, I think that Marshall now has a City Manager with leadership skills and is a subject matter expert on managing a city.  I get the feeling that when he says something, he means it. A rare trait.

With the exception is the period Buzz Snyder was the interim city manager. In the 18 years that I have been in Marshall we have not had a city manager with leadership skills.  In that time none have had broad city management skills.

I think the new City Manager, Mark Rohr, can successfully lead the charge to “mobilize Marshall.”  History may prove me wrong, but I don’t think so.

Finally, based on conversations with key city employees, I think at least some bought into Mr. Rohr’s management style and are eager to follow his lead and improve Marshall.

Twelve years ago, I lost all hope that Marshall could ever succeed.  Today I think the stars have realigned and success is possible.

It is time for Marshall to reject the “breathe deep and do nothing” attitude.  As they say, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

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