LEAD — Working as a team to make the city operate in the most open way that encourages community participation is how newly hired Lead City Administrator Dan Blakeman wants to approach his position.
Blakeman, who officially started the job last Tuesday and who will be working closely with Mike Stahl for the next six months to a year to learn the ropes of the job, said right now he feels like he’s “drinking from a fire hose.” The learning curve is steep in the community that has seen so much growth and has so much history. The challenge is to learn all of that history, how the city operates, and to get up to speed on all of the city projects and issues, so that he can become an effective manager.
In order to do that, Blakeman said he plans to lean heavily on city staff and elected officials, working as a team.
“It isn’t about me,” he said about how he sees his job as the city administrator. “It’s us, the city of Lead and the commission. The commission and staff here is a team and if we do our best that’s how you reap the rewards.”
Blakeman knows a thing or two about working as a team to reap rewards in local government. During his 20 years as a councilman and mayor of Pine Haven, Wyo., which is about 12 miles away from Moorcroft and a “bedroom community” to Gillette, Wyo., he watched the town become the fastest growing municipality in the state. With that growth came a lot of growing pains and needs for new infrastructure. Under Wyoming’s system of government city officials were required to personally ask for grants from the Legislature to pay for necessary improvements, including major land purchases to increase the capacity of a sewer lagoon from being able to handle 500 people, to a 3,000 person capacity.
Additionally, while he was the mayor in Wyoming Blakeman said he worked with the Wyoming Business Council to secure funding that helped bring the town’s only grocery store into operation. Blakeman was able to work with the state agency to secure funds to install the necessary water and sewer lines that allowed the businessman to build his store.
“That was a huge accomplishment and neat to see,” he said.
In Moorcroft, Wyo., when Blakeman served as the town’s operations officer, he was able to secure a great deal of funding to help with growing pains and infrastructure improvements. In that position, Blakeman oversaw funding and project development for several year’s worth of sewer and water projects that updated infrastructure for the whole town.
“They were focused when I went to work for them,” he said. “They had a lot of money, but they also had sewage running down the street. So we had to take care of some of that in a real big hurry. They didn’t have a master plan. We developed a master plan. The neat thing about that is they are finishing that 10-year master plan that we had. It’s neat to see how even as it went through different elected officials, they stayed on course.”
In fact, Blakeman said, planning is the most important thing he will work with Lead commissioners and staff to do in his job as city administrator.
“In this position, you hope that yourself, along with the elected officials you’re working with, as they change that they inform the people who are replacing them about what we’ve got going and why we put money (where we do),” he said.
In addition to planning, Blakeman said it’s important to keep everyone in the city government on the same page about what is going on with the plans.
“I’ve always tried to make sure that even the guy who goes out and reads the meters has a say in what we plan out,” he said. “It affects them. If I don’t’ keep them informed, then how is it for them out there? I don’t want them to have to answer very many questions, because people should come to the office for that. But they should know that this project is going to be happening hopefully next year, so if somebody asks … it’s easier to answer.”
But, Blakeman said, it’s also important to be flexible with plans. “You can be going along with a good plan and everyone is happy, then all of a sudden something major happens like a busted water line or something,” he said. “That changes the whole planning. You have to be able to understand ‘OK, we’re headed over here now because we have to fix this problem.’ But the plan doesn’t change.”
While Blakeman will be drawing from his management experience in Wyoming for his new position, there are some key differences between Pine Haven and Lead that will present some challenges with the job. Lead’s history and age is one of those challenges. As one of the newest towns in Wyoming, Pine Haven was established in 1986. But here in Lead, there is much more history to learn, and aging infrastructure to know about, to be able to manage effectively. As an example, in his fourth day on the job Blakeman said he was diving into city agreements with the Lead-Deadwood Sanitary District, to develop an understanding of the city’s relationship and operations.
“I’m trying to get an idea of where we started, all the way back from when the sanitary district took over from Homestake, all the way to current,” he said. “That’s what I want to know. I’m trying to do that and still get out so Mike can show me what the projects are and what the issues are. I’m jumping in with John (Wainman) and he’s showing me the law enforcement side of things. It’s not something I’m going to know six months from now. That’s why I will lean on the staff, and we’ll lean on Mike for the first year or so pretty hard core. I don’t see a lot of need for change. But I’ve only been here four days. I want to make sure you and the public know that this early in the game, I think we’re rock and rolling pretty good.
“One nice thing is Mike’s not going anywhere,” he continued. “His institutional knowledge is just huge. Most of the staff has been here long enough that they have institutional knowledge. So I lean on them. I came into this knowing that the first year I’m going to be learning and asking dumb questions and trying to figure out the lay of the town. It’s going to take me awhile. You guys have things running rather smoothly. Why would you mess with that?”
In addition to his work with the city, Blakeman said he is in the process of trying to find a house in Lead for his family. It’s about an 80 mile drive from Lead to Pine Haven, Wyo., so the faster he can find a place, the better, he said. Blakeman is married and has eight children, most of whom are grown. His 14-year old son will attend Lead-Deadwood High School. In his spare time, Blakeman said he is an avid outdoorsman, and he enjoys hunting and fishing with his family. He also tries to spend as much time with his 14 grandchildren as possible, and he makes sure to get over to Sheridan, Wyo., to viist his 90-year-old mother as much as he can.
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