By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN— Michon Jackson sees the good in government. As Tiffin’s first city administrator, she also thinks more people would too if they only understood it better and if it were more accessible to the people.
Jackson, a Silvis, Ill. native, started in the new position in April, also serving as the city clerk. Prior to coming to Tiffin, she served as the assistant to the city manager in West Liberty, worked for the City of Moline, Ill., and assumed roles in various other levels of government over two decades.
“I’ve known I want to do this type of work for years,” she said during a recent interview. Jackson has a masters degree in public administration from Drake University in Des Moines and prior to that received a bachelor’s degree from St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
The position of administrator was created, she explained, due to the mayor and council members previously handling all city business, as a volunteer effort, in addition to their regular jobs. As the city has grown, so too has the amount of business needing tending to on a more frequent basis than monthly meetings and work sessions. Out of necessity, she said, they decided to hire someone to manage the daily business of the city, deal with city code and code enforcement and keep an eye on the many deadlines facing the city (reports for the state, IPERS and payroll as examples).
“They’re (Tiffin) big enough to need an administrator. Even some smaller communities have hired city administrators.”
One of Jackson’s first and possibly most daunting tasks has been to review all of the city ordinances and updating them to reflect contemporary practices where necessary. As an example, Jackson has recently updated the stray animal policy to reflect the city’s agreement with the Cedar Valley Humane Society. If a stray is picked up with tags, every attempt will be made to contact the owner. The city will hold the animal for three days, and then send it off to Cedar Valley, a “no-kill” shelter. She also will send out notices to residents with animal control issues: running loose or barking as examples.
“I’m not looking to bust every pet owner, but I will address chronic offenders.”
The city also recently put into use a new complaint form that documents potential offenses such as unkempt/un-mowed yards. However, she doesn’t want to be seen as the “city mom” telling people to clean up their messes. She will take a look at complaints and send out notices though, if necessary. Jackson also has met with the public works crew to make sure that, if she’s telling people to clean up their property, the city’s house is in order too.
“Everybody is treated equally and fairly,” she said, noting enforcement has been rather lax in Tiffin in the past. The up-tick in enforcement is part of an effort to keep the community the quiet and safe community it takes pride in being known as.
Jackson has a very hands-on approach to the job. “I will go to the sewer plant, I will go to the water plant; I walked around in the weeds (surrounding a retention pond discussed at the May Council meeting).” She said she won’t just sit in the office, but will gladly go out and see issues for herself. Jackson also wants to keep up with the progress of city projects and know to her satisfaction when they are completed. With the new water tower, water line extension to the industrial park, and Ireland Avenue projects on the move, Jackson should have plenty to keep track of.
Also in her job description is looking at developments for the city, or what she called the “delicate balance between future growth and the city.” Sometimes, she said, business or industrial developments aren’t everything despite the tax revenue they may generate. When assessing a potential development, whether residential, commercial or industrial, Jackson said she will look to the good for the whole community, not just a few who might benefit from it. She realizes some decisions will upset some people, but for her, considering the entire community is paramount.
However, Jackson said, she does not come to Tiffin with a master agenda to change the city. The council is guided by the Capital Improvement Plan, which covers five years’ worth of projects, and the 10-year Comprehensive Improvement Plan. “I don’t have any plans over and above that.”
Deciding which projects to pursue often comes down to one thing: how to pay for it all. “Do we raise taxes? Do we issue bonds? A small increase in taxes can sometimes reap tremendous benefits. Small things can benefit everybody,” she said, acknowledging many people feel they are taxed too much already and are reluctant to pay more.
Jackson encourages people to come to the council meetings, to be informed and voice their concerns. Some people have a distrust or even fear of government, and are reluctant to make contact for fear it will put them on the radar, she said. To counter their reluctance, Jackson wants as much public input as possible. “It’s important that the community as a whole understands that they have the power to change what is going on. Information flow helps people feel comfortable with their government.”
Jackson said she is willing to take the time to explain anything about the city, from questions about a water bill to street lights. “I’m perfectly okay with explaining why the city does or did what it does or did. We’re here to serve, inform and protect.”
In the near future, Jackson hopes to have the city’s website updated and may even utilize Twitter to facilitate better communication. She said she information to be as possible, and the website to be a 24-hour resource. Public notice of city council meetings are already posted around town at city hall, Casey’s, The Depot, Solon State Bank and Morgan Service. Jackson’s goal is to have the notice and agenda up on the Internet too. As soon as possible after the meeting, she will have the minutes posted as well.
“I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far,” Jackson. The new face of Tiffin, along with her family (husband Zach, son Nicholas and daughter McKenzie) will officially move into town this summer; and Jackson is eagerly looking forward to it.
“It’s been quite good so far.”