Interview #18: Hot Springs, SD City Administrator Nolan Schroeder (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

Nolan Schroeder is demographically a bit different from other city managers. We talked about college, ethics, and council meeting start times–among other things.

Q: I reviewed a Hot Springs city council meeting last month. How accurately did I capture the aura of that meeting?

A: I would say the accuracy was spot-on.

Q: Yeah, it was!

A: It brought a smile to my face to say the least.

Q: Can you describe what the city council meeting room looks like?

A: We used to meet in this kind of hallway environment. It was about a year ago we switched over to a theater. It seats 400 and thankfully we have not reached capacity yet.

Q: Have you ever had a drama teacher walk in and be like, “we’ve got a rehearsal for ‘The Music Man’ in ten minutes! Everybody out!”

A: We just consider those “communications from the public.”

Q: I’m assuming you became city administrator of Hot Springs after working a couple of desk jobs…you took a year off of college to backpack through Europe…you worked retail for a bit. Then five or six years later you got this job, right?

A: [Laughs] I finished grad school in 2014 and started literally weeks after I finished school.

Q: What?! This was your first job out of college?

A: I’m 26 years old. This is my first job out of school.

Q: Oh, my god.

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Hot Springs, SD City Administrator Nolan Schroeder

Q: What have you done as city administrator?

A: We–don’t laugh when I tell these accomplishments–but we completed some audits. We were behind on those. We passed a new personnel policy. New safety policy. Our sales tax revenue has gone up since I’ve been here. I can’t say if that’s because of the work we’ve done–

Q: I’m not a journalist, so I can say it’s because of the work you’ve done.

A: [Laughs]

Q: One thing I heard from another city manager is that when the public had a problem with the city and were criticizing staff at council meetings for not doing anything about it, he wished the city council would defend the staff.

A: We were able to pass a new code of ethics that states if you have direct criticism of an employee, you don’t just lash out or nod your head along in agreement if someone is lambasting a city employee.

Q: Is there anything the council members can do or have done that makes your life difficult?

A: Yes. They can not read their packets! We prepare council packets for them. I’ll do notes on each agenda item and give–at the very most–a four line summary of what the item is.

Q: You’re kind of a professor here. You have a lesson plan. You assign the reading….So can you tell when some people have done the reading, and some people are BS-ing their way through?

A: Yes! Part of my job is to read people. You can certainly tell who is prepared for the game and who is hoping somebody else answers for them.

Q: If you could change one thing about the Hot Springs city council meetings, what would it be?

A: The start time. It’s in our ordinance that we start at 7 p.m. People that work a full eight hours and have to go to the meeting…there’s some fatigue that sets in.

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