Eric Osterberg will soon be packing his belongings and making the trek from Klamath Falls to Ferguson. While the trip is nearly 2,000 miles, the distance between the communities is much farther. Who is the man who proposes to make this journey, and to be a productive leader when he arrives?
Eric Osterberg spent his formative years in Colorado. He received his undergraduate degree in political science and economics from Colorado State University, and went on to graduate work focusing on local government administration at the University of Colorado Denver. He loves working in city management, where you can build relationships and see the impact of your work.
After college, Eric went to work as a management analyst for Adams County, Colorado, a suburb north of Denver. He served on the first management team created after the County Board adopted a Council-Manager form of government. A history of corruption in County Government meant the management team had to make hard decisions. Eric’s work specifically focused on leading organization-wide transparency initiatives, establishing and tracking performance measurements on achieving board goals, and leading the board through its first strategic planning process.
Next, Eric served as a management analyst for the city of Lone Tree, Colorado, a municipality in the southern suburbs of Denver. In that role, he worked to establish the first free, public, on-demand transit system in the Denver area, winning three awards for innovation. He advocated on behalf of the city to the Colorado state legislature.
Eric then moved on to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he served as assistant to the city manager. He led the city’s first strategic planning process. He also led the city’s equity initiative, formed after a potentially explosive racial conflict was diffused without violence. He assisted with the budget process, bringing a priority based budgeting approach. He also represented the city in labor negotiation matters.
Eric according to Eric
For many, the ideal city manager performs their duties without fondness or zeal; and therefore without grace. This expectation of neutrality acts as a restraint from governing justly. We’re bound by contract and our ethics code to improve our communities. When we’re tasked with building community, we can’t do that in a way that is ignorant of history or advances the interests of the few over the many. My aim is to change the culture of the organization to be one that is responsive and accountable to the varied needs of all our citizens.
To quote Fred Hampton, you don’t fight fire with fire best, you fight fire with water best. The issues preventing Ferguson from flourishing stem from both a racial and economic divide. A quick glance at modern media makes it clear that America is balkanizing because of these same divides, Ferguson is simply a microcosm of this trend. It’s easy to fall prey to the belief that divisions of these kinds can’t be remedied. The only way forward is to build a pro-social economy in Ferguson that puts people before profit. Development strategies implemented by cities seeking growth often replace the people they’re stated to help through the process of gentrification. Some basic examples of this:
1) Courting businesses that pay a living wage or greater while providing education and training instead of importing talent.
2) Preserving and improving our affordable housing stock through incentives to good operators and rigorous code enforcement against bad ones.
It is my hope, that in partnership with City Council, we can serve as an example to the rest of the country on how to bridge these divides. However, before we can be effective pursuing initiatives to build back community, we first have to restore public trust. This requires transparency at all levels of the decision making process and sustained engagement with citizens to help set and steer us towards our goals.
Regarding the consent decree
The Consent decree is an unfunded mandate by the Department of Justice, but represents an opportunity not a setback.
Following egregious transgressions of justice by law enforcement, the past year we’ve seen calls nationwide for police to play a less prominent role in our daily lives. In effect, the Department of Justice has ensured that kind of reduction in the Ferguson Police Department. We only have the choice of how we react to these changes.
The consent decree represents a great opportunity for us to pilot and prove alternative methods of public safety and prove there are non-antagonistic ways of reducing crime. Exploring advocacy for decriminalization of marijuana, connecting people to education and job training, affordable housing, and other needed services, can help solve problems before they lead to crime and incarceration. In essence, prioritizing a pro-social economic development strategy will alleviate crime.
A personal note
I’ll be arriving in Ferguson in a few weeks, along with my partner, David. I look forward to hunting, fishing, camping, and enjoying the live music scene. And yes, working out at the gym is another favorite. I will hold weekly office hours starting in late August, and hope you’ll take a few minutes to stop by. City government exists to serve you, and doing that in an efficient, transparent, and equitable manner will be my continual focus as your city manager.