We put the IT in city®

CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development


Chris Lagerbloom
City Manager
City of Milton, Georgia

Chris Lagerbloom was appointed as City Manager for the City of Milton in February 2009. He also served as the Director of Public Safety and Interim City Manager for the City of Milton prior to being appointed as the full-time City Manager. During his time with the City of Milton, Lagerbloom coordinated the initial deployment of police and fire services, synchronized and implemented policy and employed a top-notch staff. After moving into the Office of City Manager, he took the lead on moving the City of Milton to performing more services in-house, which represented a cost savings of more than $1.5 million. Before joining the City of Milton, Lagerbloom served as an accomplished public safety executive in various capacities with the City of Alpharetta from 1995 through 2006, working his way up through the ranks from Police Officer to Police Captain.


What are some of the biggest challenges facing Milton?

Like everyone else, our biggest challenge is managing our competing needs with available resources. A down economy has hit us hard during the last couple of years. As a result, probably the biggest challenge we have is adapting our service delivery to this new “normal.” I think dealing with this new reality is a better way to look at our situation, rather than waiting for an economic rebound that may or may not occur at some point in the future.

We’ve looked at how we leverage resources and tried to find ways we can diversify our internal staff, along with partnering with business and other governments external to our organization. We’re figuring out the right balance: what’s essential, and what’s nice to have. That’s a big challenge. We’re also newer than most cities, and we’re still dealing with many challenging first-time issues and items.

How have you been overcoming budget issues?

The down economy has renewed our respect for every dollar. We’ve looked for cost-saving measures and ways to tighten our belts in areas as large as limiting overtime in our Police and Fire departments to something as small as whether we provide coffee services at City Hall. We’ve taken each area and asked, “What is critical? What is the city using the public’s money for? Do I need it to keep the doors open?” If the answer to that last question is no, we’ve tried to limit those expenses. We also celebrate when we tighten expenses and save dollars, even if they’re small.

As we close out our fiscal year 2010, we have a fund balance of $7.5 million out of a total budget of $18 million. That’s a great percentage of revenues over expenditures, which keeps our reserves strong and will allow for additional capital projects to be completed this year. My philosophy of budgeting is to anticipate revenues conservatively and expenditures liberally. We’ve continued to outsource portions of government that we think are right for outsourcing, particularly in our Public Works department. We’ve also done our best not to acquire depreciating assets (e.g. lawn mowers, dump trucks, etc.).

How does technology fit into your overall strategic vision?

We have embraced technology. We recognize there are roles and tasks that technology is replacing the need for a person to do. We try to implement technology solutions when it makes us better at doing what we do. The explosion of social media has also affected us, especially considering the number of citizens with whom we can now connect. Before, we would have not had those relationships. After the January 2011 ice storm, we provided real-time updates to our citizens about what roads Public Works crews were on, when roads opened and other important news. The feedback we received from our citizens was amazing. With their cell phones, they were able to know when we were going to have plows on their road.

How has the city leveraged GIS?

We use GIS in just about every city department. Public Safety uses it for emergency responses. Every fire hydrant in Milton is plotted with a GIS layer. We’re documenting and inventorying our city infrastructure. Community Development uses GIS for zoning and land use. Finance uses it for tax parcel IDs and acreage. It is truly used across the city.

We currently don’t have a GIS program in which somebody could go to our website and access public GIS data. They can do that at the county level, but Milton’s data is more accurate because we only have to maintain it for a small portion of the county.

We even leveraged GIS as we were going through our initial ISO rating for the fire department. Inside the cockpit of our fire trucks, our firefighters can pull up what appears to be a satellite image of the location to which they are responding. On the satellite image, they can click on the building and it automatically pulls up building floor plans, hydrant connections and other things that make fire operations smoother, right on their computer.

How do you connect with and learn from other municipalities?

In North Fulton county, we probably have one of the strongest groups of available city and county managers and administrators with whom I’ve ever had the opportunity to work. I can call any of our partner cities for help, and I am lucky to have some pretty experienced managers in this area. As I was contemplating taking this position, one of them told me that if I’m not afraid to ask for help, they were not going to let me fail. That was a powerful statement – somebody who has been in the city manager business for 30 years telling me its okay not to know everything. I rely upon these men and women tremendously.

Networking is also important and one of the most critical things people can do to stay successful. You don’t have to be an expert in everything. You just have to know an expert. I stay involved in the Georgia City/County Managers Association, and I’m a member of ICMA. I’ve had the privilege of being selected this year for ICMA’s leadership class of 2012. Fifteen people from across the United States and Canada were selected. The networking and outreach that has come with this opportunity is just phenomenal.

How do you stay informed?

My peers are a great source of information. I’m also a big reader of PM magazine (which is ICMA’s magazine), Governing magazine, and the Harvard Business Review. I’ve established a strategy team in the City of Milton consisting of eight department heads. We not only get together to manage the business of the city, but we also get together to invest in each other’s professional development.

We’ve read books such as Good to Great and will be reading A Whole New Mind. A Whole New Mind is an interesting book. It analyzes how the left brain thinkers of the world, those people who deal with analytics and strategy, have to find some way to exercise their right brain. If there is a technology solution that can replace people, then it’s being implemented. If a job can be outsourced cheaper overseas, then it’s being outsourced. If you don’t exercise your creative abilities to get your right brain working in conjunction with your left brain, over time it becomes more difficult to answer the question, “Why do you provide value?” In our business, city managers often present cases to City Council. Where we probably fall short is with our ability to tell a story. People don’t always remember numbers, facts and figures. But if you tell a story, they’ll remember. That philosophy also applies to how you relate to citizens. You’ve got to demonstrate you’re doing something for your citizens that they can’t get from a computer or overseas.

What do you do for fun? How do you enjoy your free time?

I have a six-year-old who keeps me running ragged. We have a lot of fun. At this point in his life, baseball and Harry Potter keeps us occupied. I also have a wonderful wife. My favorite hobby is cooking. My specialty (and I think my staff would agree) is barbecue. And I’m not talking about a hamburger on a grill. I’m talking about real, honest-to-goodness barbeque! We do barbecue about once a month at City Hall.