|A Different Person||Entering Harvard|
|Hard-core Harvardians||Above and Beyond|
|Comings and Goings||Need an Intern? An Extern?|
|Paul Mawn: A Matter of Respect||Pauline Tesler: Family Advocate|
|Henry Hill: At Work for the People||Yesterday's News|
|City manager Henry Hill on the outskirts of Melbourne.|
Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America convinced Henry J. Hill '79 that local government is the key to providing the people with what they want. And ever since completing his work as a government concentrator, he has devoted himself to realizing that ideal.
Today, Hill is one of more than 7,000 men and women across the country who hold the position of city manager: in his case, in Melbourne, Florida, a city of approximately 68,000 people. In 1996, the local regional council of the National Management Association named him Manager of the Year.
Hill describes the city-manager system--a Progressive-era reform designed to combat the electoral spoils system characteristic of the United States at the turn of the century--as a positive alternative to the mayor/city council form of government. As he sees it, the city-manager system--by mirroring the structure of a corporation--lessens the effects of party politics on decision-making. An elected city council appoints a nonpartisan city manager whose function is to oversee all aspects of city operations and to work behind the scenes, recommending actions aimed at improving the community as a whole.
He is no stranger to this line of work. Before returning to his native state to accept the post in Melbourne, he served as the first-ever town manager of the small Berkshire community of Adams, Massachusetts. During his five-year tenure, he effected some major changes, including repairing the main drainage structures, building a new apartment complex, and supervising the construction of a town common. He also helped develop what he calls a "façade improvement" program, which encouraged local businesses to redecorate their storefronts to give the city more visual appeal. The improvements attracted the attention of business people and potential homeowners, he reports, thus decreasing the vacancy rate from 40 percent to almost zero. He left Adams "with a sense of genuinely having helped a lot of good people better appreciate the town they and their families had lived in their entire lives."
Now Hill manages 800 employees and a $108-million budget in Melbourne, which has utilized the city-manager form of government for more than 70 years. He makes it a point to attend all city council meetings, using them as a forum to provide progress reports on city affairs. He helped establish a city-wide Web page designed to provide citizens, visitors, and interested Web surfers with historical and current information about the city. He says Melbourne citizens have responded positively to his regular attendance at community meetings and events, like a local anti-drug campaign that emphasizes protest marches through notorious sections to let drug dealers know that their presence will not be tolerated. Many of the major operations, he says, have closed down and moved out of the city as a result.
In Hill's opinion, Melbourne's citizens--by working through the city council--can direct his actions and thus affect policy-making involving the police and fire departments, planning and zoning issues, and public works. That makes him part of a local government that leaves the power in the hands of the people, which is democracy at its best.
~ Jason Williamson