From my vantage point, the first real test of our next mayor, whoever he may be, is whether (or to what extent) he taps our city’s thriving young professional community when filling key positions in the administration.
And, just to be clear, I'm not suggesting all positions be filled with younger people but pointing out that enough openings exist in city government that it would be a shame if this group isn't represented in at least one position.
What I mean by "young professional"
The term "young professional" means different things to different people. Our local young professional group defines the term as “20-40 somethings.” Social scientists widely consider young professionals to be those aged 25-34. For my purposes, I’m referencing the latter.
Those aged 25-34 are largely considered millennials, although there is some overlap with Generation X. These millennials are most notably characterized by their technological superiority when compared to other generations. They are highly educated, seek out challenging careers and are more optimistic about their futures.
These are characteristics I see every day among the cadre of young professionals and entrepreneurs seeking to benefit from and contribute to Chattanooga’s resurgence.
Some may suspect the mayor’s key personnel decisions are decided long before ballots are counted. But a former mayoral chief of staff I spoke with recently said it’s his experience that this is rarely the case.
The process starts when the mayor-elect chooses a chief of staff and other core personnel. They’ll soon begin to thoroughly interview and assess existing departments and their staff in an effort to deduce what is and is not working in each department.
Although it’s likely some current administrators and deputies will soon retire, it’s entirely up to the mayor whether he keeps these existing employees (by reappointment) or by appointing new ones he chooses.
Based on the city’s current organizational makeup, there are 12 top-level administrative positions to be filled, not including deputy administrators in some departments.
The exact number of positions could change, of course, depending on whether any departments are merged or split up (as happens from time to time). But what’s more important than the exact number is that enough opportunities exist to ensure some sense of diversity in an administration.
Why young professionals
If you ask someone to name word associations with local government, you’ll probably get responses like "slow," "wasteful" and "out of touch."
How sentiments like these are so prevalent when we are surrounded by the most educated, connected and technologically adept workforce in Chattanooga's history is, in my opinion, one of the biggest failures of local government leaders.
And though we don’t yet know the specifics of our next mayor’s vision for Chattanooga, we do know what our city’s essential challenges are, such as infrastructure, growth and crime.
Judging by how long we’ve been staring these issues in the face, it’s clear that conventional approaches need to give way to innovation and technology. This approach would go a long way to making our city government more efficient and responsive for residents.
The good news is we have plenty of intelligent young people who are eager to bring a new approach to city government. All the next mayor has to do is ask for their help.
The opinions expressed in this editorial belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com.