How What I Learned in Graduate School Helps Me in My Job as a Village Manager

KrizanBy James Krizan, Former Village Manager of Decatur

I entered EMU’s MPA program fully anticipating that I would pursue a career in nonprofit management; I had spent the previous seven years working in the nonprofit sector. However, that changed with my first course in the program. It sparked my passion and desire for service and my life in public administration and local government.   

I was appointed to the position of Decatur Village Manager on September 30, 2013, just five months after completing my MPA at EMU. It was an exciting time walking into my first public sector working experience, and I feel my education prepared me for the various challenges I faced in Decatur, located in Southwest Michigan. 

The first challenge was a new company’s expansion. Though it potentially offered many long-term benefits to the community, this expansion threatened to compromise public safety because of the needed changes to infrastructure. The most obvious solution would cost the Village taxpayers roughly 77% of the annual general fund budget. Partly due to different skills gained during my MPA studies, I was confident that we could come to a solution that would work out for everyone involved, and in the end, we did come to a solution that allowed both the expansion of the business as well as the improvement of our infrastructure without compromising our general fund or roads budget.  

Making the community a better place to live is a goal for all local government managers. When I entered my first fall season as Village Manager, I discovered a bulk leaf collection program that was hemorrhaging funds as well as wasting valuable man-hours. In addition, there was a number of resident complaints received yearly. After showing my elected officials that there were far better options for the program, we made drastic changes. These changes saved time and money while increasing the service level for all residents, thus decreasing resident complaints.

Facing certain budget constraints gave us an opportunity to really investigate what we do, how we do it, and how we measure it. Because of the constraints, we implemented a basic form of performance-based budgeting and were able to improve services and modernize a Public Works Department that had seen very little change since the middle of the 20th Century.      

Because I came to Decatur with very little municipal experience, I had to rely upon the knowledge and skills gained during my MPA education in order to earn credibility and the trust of the elected officials as well as the Village staff. Now after over two years here in Southwest Michigan, this community is running like a well-oiled machine, and I have the ability to utilize not just my educational background but also my experiences and the relationships I have built during my time here to make timely decisions on important issues.

James Krizan was the Village Manager of Decatur and is a 2013 alum of the EMU MPA Program. James now works as the Assistant to the City Manager of Royal Oak.

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