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Wayne Bowers: How I Manage

Part three of five in our discussion with former Greenville City Manager Wayne Bowers, who resigned February 29. (Click here for part one, here for part two. Full series schedule here.)

By Anthony Noel

In the previous installment, Bowers talked extensively about BMW deciding to build its American manufacturing plant in Spartanburg while he was city manager. The conversation next moved to his management philosophy.

GREENVILLE GUARDIAN: You were saying that, when you’ve got good city staff, things will work out. Some folks look at getting a “city job” because they think it’s a guaranteed job or whatever, but even then I think there’s an element of pride in serving the community. That has to make a manager’s job somewhat easier than it is in a private enterprise situation.

WAYNE BOWERS: There’s pros and cons to that. I think in private enterprise you have a more focused workforce because you’re looking at the bottom line. You know whether you’re making money or not, and that’s what you’re in business for. It’s what BMW’s in business for, to make money, not just make jobs, so there’s more focus.

With a city job, we don’t quite have that bottom line to measure up to. You know, we always talk about making government run like a business. And you can’t. It’s two different things. If this could be run like a business, it’d be a business. We’re not a business. We do things that we can adopt business-like procedures, but people don’t really want us to run like a business, because we wouldn’t be taking care of poor people, we wouldn’t…

GG: It’d be cold and impersonal?

WB: That’s right.

So when I talk to new employees, I say it is really very fulfilling to work, in [Greenville’s] case for 85,000 people. And they’re all, you’re working for everybody. If you’re over here at one of the banks, you know, you’ve got a choice. You can go with this bank, or that bank or this bank, or you go buy groceries, you know, you make a choice.

“We always talk about making government run

like a business. And you can’t.

It’s two different things.

If this could be run like a business, it’d be a business.

We’re not a business.”

Our citizens don’t really have a choice. We’re their city government, so we’ve got to challenge ourselves to be, you know, we’ve gotta say okay, we could sit here and provide mediocre services if we want to. But do you really want to be part of that kind of organization? Let’s challenge ourselves, even though we’re basically a monopoly.

We want to take pride in everything we do, so I challenge all our new employees to look at it as an opportunity to provide public service to everybody in this community, everybody at one time.

I always tell them that, sometime in your career, somebody will look at you and say, “I pay your salary!” And that’s great!

GG: And that’s how folks think of it.

WB: Yeah. And so you say, “Well fine, I’m glad you’re paying my salary, and I want to do the very best job I can to earn it.”

So that’s my philosophy, and I think most of our employees grasp it that way, they’ve bought in and take pride in what we do. We have a good reputation in the community, we haven’t had any scandals, nobody’s stolen any money, so we have a pretty good reputation.

GG: How does your experience in Greenville compare to, and what did you take from, your experiences in other cities?

WB: I think everything builds up. You get experience and by the time you get to where I am in my career you think you’ve done everything and then something comes up tomorrow you’ve never even been confronted with. All those experiences build up and you think you can handle about anything.

Greenville was attractive to me because my wife and I wanted to come back to the Carolinas, we’re Carolina people and so we have relatives in North Carolina. It was another personal move; I’d done my hundred-thousand [population] city [Gainesville], so I came back to a nice little town of 60,000 – which is now 85,000! It has grown rapidly in my time here.

“I’d done a lot of downtown work,

a lot of economic development work,

and one of the things I saw

here in Greenville was that nobody

thought about putting sidewalks in.”

I worked in West Virginia where the population was going down, it’s a lot more fun to work in a city that’s got problems like ours. I’m talking about people starting to complain about parking downtown. I say that’s a manager’s dream! I want to have that problem! It sure beats the heck out of the other problem, you know, “I wish we had some cars downtown.” So we’ve got a parking problem downtown, which I take great pride in.

So I’d done a lot of downtown work, a lot of economic development work, and bringing my Gainesville experience, one of the things I saw here in Greenville was that the town was built on the automobile. Nobody thought about putting sidewalks or greenways in, and I was just really enthusiastic about [doing that].

You go to Gainesville, people are walking all the time. I know the weather’s a little bit different, but not that much different. So you go to Gainesville Florida, people are walking and there are sidewalks everywhere, sidewalks everywhere – and greenways, and people are out and active and all that kind of stuff, and I said that all contributes to a healthy community. In my time here I’d like to make that impact.

So we’ve started putting sidewalks everywhere we can put sidewalks, and now I can just see that we’re starting to tie them together. And a sidewalk system, you can’t put three blocks of sidewalk here and three blocks of sidewalk here. You’ve gotta have a system. You wouldn’t drive down a road that ended after three blocks, so you can’t hardly walk until the system, you know, we’re finally getting them tied together.

The greenways, I’m not saying that was my vision, that vision was already here with the FROGGS group [Friends of Greenville Greenways], so we were able to kinda push it forward, get some money, get some earmarks out of Congress, and that’s been very satisfying.

The project over in West Greenville, the [Lucille W. Gorham] Intergenerational Community Center, was a great collaboration with the university. My experience with that project was how I was able to establish a good working relationship with the university.

I learned in Gainesville that one of the key persons to know in a university is the vice chancellor for finance and administration, so I’ve always developed a good relationship there and I think that always helped. I had good relations with Kevin Seitz when he was here, and now Rick Niswander. That’s sort of my counterpart, sort of the city manager of the university.

A lot of what you do in this business is personal relationships. Getting to know people. It takes you a little while, but once you find out who the people are that get things done, you can be effective.

GG: What are some of the things that Greenville does best, in comparison to some of the other cites you’ve worked in?

WB: I think our recreation and parks department is one of the tops in the country. We were recognized by Sports Illustrated before I got here. Boyd Lee set a great foundation, and I think people in Greenville are just very fortunate to have this recreation and parks department and the great parks facilities all over town.

“Recreation is a big contributor to quality of life.

If you want to do economic development,

in today’s economic climate,

people look at the quality of the community.”

Elm Street Park for Little League, I mean, that’s world class. We’re doing the Drew Steele Center there now, the community raised half a million dollars. That’s going to support special populations, [recreation] programs for people with disabilities. The [Sarah Vaughn] Field of Dreams down there is great facility, but you look all around that facility and see great things. Greenfield Terrace Park up north of the river; we’ve got the city golf course [Bradford Creek], the aquatics and fitness center.

Recreation is a big contributor to quality of life. If you want to do economic development, in today’s economic climate, people look at the quality of the community. That’s a big factor, and our recreation and parks department is one of our shining jewels.

In part four, premiering Wednesday, March 28, Wayne Bowers talks about what Greenville needs to take its next step forward.

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