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United Way of Lancaster County


Patrick Hopkins: 10 truths of city administration (opinion)

(Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

(Editor’s Note: Patrick Hopkins, Lancaster’s outgoing Director of Administrative Services, emailed this reflection to his colleagues at City Hall on Friday, June 30, his last day before retirement.)

  1. Local government has, by far, a more significant impact on people’s everyday lives than the state or federal governments, even though they get more attention.  We serve people in emergency situations, we pave their streets (never fast enough!), we keep their neighborhood park looking good, we make sure the home they rent is safe, and we tax them to be able to provide those services.  Never forget that what you do when you are working for the City can have a major impact on one or thousands of residents. Try to make the impact a good one as often as you can.
  2. Most residents don’t have any idea what it takes to make City government work and to make the services we provide actually happen.  And that’s OK.  Our job is to make it work, provide services and make it look easy to do.  When City government works well, the city people live in works well, and residents will know it even if they don’t know how it’s done.
  3. Do the right thing and explain to the public how and why you’re doing it.  While they may not like it, those who are paying attention will usually understand and maybe even eventually agree you did the right thing.
  4. You can disagree with people — your boss, your coworkers, elected officials, even our residents — without being disagreeable.  Treat others with respect even when you disagree, and everyone will be better served.
  5. Tell the public the truth — even when it’s bad news.  Especially when it’s bad news. 
  6. The City is a perpetual organization — we will always be needed.  That can tend to make public employees complacent and forget why City government exists — to serve our residents.  Never forget that.
  7. Local journalism can be a serious annoyance at times — I’ve “been there and done that” MANY times.  But at its best, local journalism educates the public and ensures transparency in government decisions.  If you don’t have a local newspaper subscription, get one.  Local journalism deserves to be supported and government is better with local journalism than without it.
  8. Unions can be a serious annoyance at times — I’ve “been there and done that” MANY times too.  AND I support our City employee unions and the work they do for their members — our coworkers.  I’ve been involved in negotiating nearly 20 union contracts during my 21 years of City service and have always tried to reach fair deals for the City and for the employees.  As hard as it may be to recognize sometimes, the City is a better employer and provides better pay and benefits for all employees because we have employee unions.
  9. I’ve been involved in City government either as an employee or working on election campaigns for Mayor and City Council since 1993 – 30 years!  Compared to today, the City was in pretty rough shape back then after decades of people and jobs moving to the suburbs.  But enough people inside and outside of City government cared enough to invest their time, money, expertise, and wisdom to make the City a better place over those three decades.  And it worked.  Lancaster City is a model for successful cities in Pennsylvania and beyond because of the work that we all do – and it can continue to get better.
  10. You may hear it a lot that public service is a thankless job.  That’s 100% false.  You just need to look for your “thanks” in different places than coming directly from a resident’s mouth or social media post.  The thanks come from watching kids play in a well-maintained park, from a well-attended community event, from neighbors all over the City having block parties, from new businesses opening up because we’ve provided an attractive environment where they can be successful.  This stuff happens in one way or another because of the work that City employees do.  Take your thanks from that good stuff when you see it and it can sustain you through the inevitable hard times.