Current city department heads, most of whom worked for the city in some capacity before this writer came aboard, unanimously agree: the city has never been in better shape when addressing financial, systemic, or personnel considerations. These public servants vigorously embrace and operate within the vision they created in 2015: “A core competent city team, providing excellence in municipal governance.” Good leaders lead from the front while modeling the standards they expect their subordinates to emulate. All city leaders in Emmett check those boxes with aplomb. Without question, their leadership forms the foundation of our success during the last eight years.
Within days of creating their vision, department directors created five strategic pillars that still comprise the city’s “North Star”. Guiding all city operations and functions, the five pillars making up our astrocompass illuminate fundamental pathways; namely, to create a city that is (1) economically vibrant, (2) health-conscious, (3) legally compliant with all state and federal laws, (4) performing its constitutional mission (protecting people and property), (5) with adequate infrastructure for growth.
That city department heads could create such strategic documents in short order is due in part to this writer articulating at the beginning the management style they could expect: as the subject-matter experts in their respective departments, their mayor would not micromanage their operations. Department heads had (and currently have) free-reign to operate within the adopted vision and strategic pillars, confined only by their budgets, the law, our personnel policy, and any council input. In other words, department heads have the freedom to do their jobs. While doing so, they know to look for efficiencies and money-saving practices while conserving resources. They have adopted these latter habits as the city’s tactics, techniques and practices (TTPs).
Systems Administration (IT)
Creating Emmett’s newest department not long after the department heads crafted their strategic documents shows how well their vision and five pillars work. Soon after the council appointed this writer mayor in 2015, it became apparent that then-Detective Lieutenant Mike Knittel of the Emmett Police Department spent about as much time dealing with computer and communications systems for Emmett’s Police Department, other city departments, and, on occasion, departments of other local governments, as he spent building cases against criminals.
Accordingly, the department heads met and sacrificially developed a solid plan. They pooled their respective department’s resources previously budgeted—but not yet earmarked to spend—to create the Systems Administration (IT) Department consisting of one employee, the former Detective Lieutenant Mike Knittel. Since then, Mike’s domain has grown into a sustainable department of three. Moreover, because Director Knittel has a passion for broadband and anything that is fast, reliable, and affordable in the world of connectivity, not only for city departments, but our residents as well, Mikes’s IT Department has partnered with Emmett Public Works to construct and maintain a next-generation fiber-optic system to Emmett’s great benefit—one that became a model for the state.
In fact, municipal and county leaders throughout the state recognize Emmett’s broadband program as one of the most successfully pioneered and deployed municipal broadband systems in Idaho’s short history of this technology. Director Knittel often presents the good news about the best practices he fostered when developing Emmett’s system at conferences throughout the greater Treasure Valley. Alternatively, government leaders come to Emmett to see our system up close.
Not only has Mike Knittle made his department successful, he’s made it sustainable, as well. Emmett’s current pilot program of directly deploying fiber optics to residential customers will expand to other residential and business areas in the not-so-distant future. Mike has created a sought-after utility that over time could essentially support his entire department. Such an event mitigates the need for significant ad valorem tax support. Stated differently, Mike’s stewardship has the potential for funding his department when he begins servicing city residents and businesses with fiber optics in much the same way Public Works funds our sewer and water systems with user fees.
Never to rest on their laurels, Director Knittel and his two full-time employees oversee the daily maintenance and operations of all technology needs throughout the city—from the public library to waste water treatment. With his team ever on-call 24/7, Director Knittel’s outstanding leadership keeps the department on top of rapidly changing technology; now especially evident in the current milieu of supply-chain shortages and inflationary pressures. Successful leaders anticipate setbacks they expect to encounter “in the fight”. In this, Mike Knittel is a successful leader by any standard. To date, his team has analyzed, adapted, and overcome every encountered obstacle.
Clint Seamons’ title is “Director of Public Works”. This translates to Clint Seamons as the Director of the Water Department, the Sewer Department, the Road Department, the Parks Department, the Airport, and the Cemetery. In other words, Clint is as valuable to the city as a five-tool baseball player is to his team; plus, he brings one more tool. Before coming to the city fourteen years ago this May, Clint owned and operated a construction company, one that worked on our waste water treatment facility during its construction as a subcontractor.
This serendipitous event has served our city well over the last eight years. Not only did Clint have the skillsets to fix the waste water system’s serious defects in the 2017-18 timeframe, he did so. Moreover, he did it in-house, thus saving taxpayers close to $1 million. He also maintains the system at greatly reduced prices. How? He trains his staff to do it, thereby eliminating the need to hire outside contractors, thus showcasing his outstanding leadership traits.
A more recent example of the valuable skills of Director Seamons’ subordinates involves replacement of the Hawthorne Lift Station. This in-house project will be completed soon. The project replaces a device over forty-years old that has struggled with operating properly under current conditions. By completing the project in-house, the city saved about $300,000 and ensures the project meets the city’s standards.
Concomitant with such repairs, Public Works also continues to replace aging sewer pipes, utilizing sleeving techniques in some areas that combat water infiltration issues which have long plagued the city’s waste water treatment system. By attending to these matters, Emmett will now meet the more stringent discharge limits Director Seamons anticipates from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ).
Our road system, coupled with drainage running over and under it, has been a weak spot from its beginning; one this writer has targeted since 2015 within resource availability. Sadly, Emmett’s roads were built upon a substandard foundation. Similar to the Sunday School song, those who came before us, built Emmett’s roads on sand, not rock. This error, coupled with a lack of proper engineering for the drainage system, has resulted in Emmett dealing with road issues for decades. Director Seamons concludes there can be no more band aids. Happily, the city is finally in a position to do something besides chip seal over the problem.
Since 2019, Director Seamons, with some help from the legislature, has increased the road budget by 280 percent. He did this by helping to lead the way in revamping our budgeting model and acquiring grants that escaped us in the past. Hence, through talented stewardship, the city raised the Roads Capital Improvements line from $15,000 to $730,000 over the last three budgets.
This allows Public Works to complete large road projects this year, to include correcting the drainage issues along South Boise Avenue, now underway. Further, Locust’s terrible corner will soon be history!
Director Seamons also trained his Parks Department to stretch their small budget. For example, he initiated an in-house weed control and fertilization program that saves $11,000 per year. As an added bonus, he has cross-trained both the cemetery and park staffs to do each other’s jobs. This facilitates “massing” existing employees from these departments to certain projects needing immediate attention at one or the other work sites without having to hire seasonal or part-time help. This technique echoes the city’s strategy of accomplishing more with less.
For the first time in recent memory, the Airport is self-sustaining. This means we budget for the Airport essentially what we now collect from hanger rentals and the golf course lease. Consequently, our less-than-robust ad valorem budget is no longer tapped to meet the shortfall. In fact, over the last five years, the city has doubled hanger space and leases. Indeed, more than one-hundred pilots wait on a list for space, many wanting to build their own hangers. Recently, staff and council learned a sky-diving business desires to make Emmett a parachute drop zone. If such an event can be worked out to the satisfaction of all Airport tenants, Emmett could be the situs of the last sky diving drop zone left standing in Idaho. What does that mean? It could bring several new visitors to Emmett on weekends for their adrenalin rushes, food, niche shopping downtown, and a relaxing round of golf—what the Chamber of Commerce calls “doing business.”
In addressing the cemetery, best practices now operate when it wasn’t always so. In the last six years, the city has implemented specific compaction standards and resodding. The grounds become more beautiful every spring. When the local VFW and American Legion Posts patriotically dress up the cemetery for Memorial Day, it creates an eye-popping photo event.
All departments, then, under the umbrella of Public Works have changed their model of doing business. The new approach, mainly performing in-house construction and repairs and leveraging cross-trained individuals from other departments, results in significant savings. This generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in carry-over, which the Clerk fences off into capital improvement accounts or, in the alternative, the sub-departments use them on needed projects that previously went begging.
Regardless of revenue shortfalls exacerbating issues created by increased inflationary costs or supply-chain challenges, under the solid leadership of Director Seamons, his Public Works staff
grows in knowledge, skillsets, and accomplished goals—equipping them to more than fulfill their vital missions—and helping to sustain the highly-sought life style residents prefer here.
Do you LOVE local news? Get Local News Headlines in your inbox daily.
Thanks! You’ll start receiving
the headlines tomorrow!
In addressing solid leadership, how the most underfunded department in the city can be named Idaho’s best Public Library of the Year is a testament to Alyce Kelley’s skills, those of her hard-working staff, and the significant contributions made by the Friends of the Library! The library team’s focus over the last several years has coalesced into serving families first and foremost. They know libraries operate as a “door to literacy”, particularly for children. That’s why Alyce, her staff and “Friends” emphasize programs for children, such as Story Time, Story Play, and Kids’ Craft Corner.
The Summer Reading Program provides another example of library programming to support childhood literacy. Over 400 young readers participated in 2022, and the library expects more participation in 2023. Friends of the Library contribute significantly to the Summer Reading Program with their $1000 pay-out-prize challenge. Nevertheless, a focus on families and children does not mean adults are overlooked.
Adult library programming includes Mix ‘N Mingle events featuring local crafters sharing themed activities, Art Awareness events with local artists and authors, and Book Discussion Groups. The library also hosts the Department of Labor to support one-on-one sessions with local job seekers. One can say that the Emmett Public Library keeps adults creating, learning and earning.
In 2022, the library garnered over $36,000 in grants, perhaps the most important one being the National AARP grant of over $13,500. The latter funded the purchase and installation of the new “holds locker” in the front of the library building. This new system allows patrons to pick up books beyond hours of operation.
Successful leadership at the library comes from listening carefully to the community’s needs. By implementing best practices, thus increasing efficiency and saving library dollars in the process, Alyce demonstrates those leadership principles that help strengthen our community. The Emmett Public Library goes beyond the cold bricks and mortar of a building to be the beating heart of a community that values learning. Emmett can be proud of the outstanding public servants found at its public library. From Alyce, to her staff, to the Friends—all take their craft to the next level every day.
While the Emmett Public Library serves as the heart of the community, the “heart” of city operations is Lyleen Jerome and her small staff. Calling Lyleen the City Clerk translates to Clerk, Treasurer, and Human Resources Officer. The office once had four and one-half employees, but through proper use of technology and increasing office efficiency, Clerk Jerome now provides an increased level of service with herself and two full-time employees, a Deputy Clerk and a Utility-Accounts-Payable Clerk.
Having spent most of her professional career in banking, Clerk Jerome understands financial systems, their on-line counterparts, and how to make those systems more user-friendly, thus encouraging more use. As a result, by streamlining city forms and applications and making them accessible electronically on the city’s website, the Clerk’s office has increased automatic pay clients, made various licensing requirements easier and more convenient, and currently has structural updates being added to the physical office, resulting in a more ADA compliant building. As an added bonus, all costs and fees at City Hall can now be paid with charge or debit cards—not always the case in the past.
Clerk Jerome recently commented, “We have an excellent team of leaders here at the city who closely work together for the benefit of our residents. I am proud to be a part of this team. The commitment, communication, and camaraderie can’t be topped. When everyone is moving forward, success takes care of itself.” She succinctly encapsulates the current model of city staff doing business in Emmett.
Brian Sullivan is the stalwart Director of Building and Zoning. Because growth in these parts is inevitable and cannot legally be quashed as some would like—and certainly not when landowners are selling their land to developers—his job is often thankless. Director Sullivan took the lead in creating Emmett’s first stand-alone Comprehensive Plan. While neither law nor self-executing, Comprehensive Plans are still required to support any Zoning Ordinances adopted by cities and counties. Director Sullivan also successfully landed a Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation grant of $50,000 to cover about half the cost of developing our new plan. Similarly to Gem County, Emmett hired the same professional firm as the commissioners to do the heavy lifting.
As with all city directors, Brian Sullivan is not a one-trick pony. In addition to his Planning and Zoning duties, he enforces the city’s building code (Building Inspector), serves as Floodplain Manager, operates as Emmett’s ADA Coordinator for city properties, and acts as the chief irrigation backflow inspector. Brian’s department is transparent, efficient, and always ready to
assist fellow department heads in the often-Byzantine aspects of building codes and developmental agreements. As a solid team player, Director Sullivan does what he can to ensure not only the success of his department, but the success of all city departments.
No one works harder at keeping Emmett one of the safest communities in the state than Police Chief Steve Kunka. Undergoing a substantial reorganization in how his department does business, Chief Kunka has increased patrol officers from eight to ten. He also ensures his officers receive the highest level of training, including how to de-escalate and handle individuals suffering from mental diseases or defects. Recently, his officers have trained on the administration of Narcan spray when they encounter individuals in a life-threatening situation due to drug overdoses. Two officers used it last year.
Big events like the Cherry Festival or Cruise Night don’t just happen. Logistically, they can be difficult for a city our size. For example, on a typical Friday or Saturday of Cherry Festival, Emmett more than doubles its population—and there’s no good solution to the parking issues created by the influx of out-of-towners. As a consequence, Chief Kunka, often in conjunction with Chief Christensen of the Emmett Fire Department, take the point in soldiering through the issues created by these large gatherings. In fact, they have drafted and recently obtained Council approval for a Special Events Ordinance that goes far in clearing the way of systemic issues encountered each year. Frankly, Emmett lacks the design and infrastructure for large gatherings; yet, these two stewards of safety have always made a solid meal out of a soup sandwich.
Another over-achieving department is Emmett’s historic Fire Department encompassing one full-time employee (the Chief) and for the first time in modernity, one part-timer, supplemented with twenty-three “volunteers”. Since 1909, Emmett’s well-trained firefighting department has faithfully served Emmett’s residents. Under the leadership of Chief Curt Christensen, the department has never been better trained or public-service oriented. Simply consider the HAZMAT team, the child safety car seat program, the smoke detector program, the fire safety program and the community risk reduction program comprise just a few examples of the proactive leadership style adopted by Chief Christensen.
Another example of the chief’s leadership can be found in the nascent training facility, now under construction, currently and literally being built piece by piece by Emmett’s hard-working firefighters. The facility gives the department a place to conduct burns that increases firefighter
knowledge, builds their confidence, and establishes muscle memory for times of high stress. While on the topic of stress, Chief Christensen is a leader in the area in creating a successful Critical Incident Stress Management team.
On multiple occasions, Emmett’s firefighters encounter shocking incidents that if not dealt with promptly have the capacity to cause serious psychological injuries (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) to those encountering them. One of the first things leaders learn about leadership is to “take care” of those under their charge. Chief Christensen and Deputy Chief Mike Giery do everything humanly possible to ensure that the men and women of their department, whether active or retired firefighters, serving or having served on their watch, will not have suffered physical, mental, spiritual or moral injuries.
In conclusion, Emmett’s department directors could not accomplish what they do without having dedicated employees performing the important and fundamental operations of a municipality. Emmett’s employees are first class. They work hard and consistently exceed expectations because that is the work environment leadership creates. Moreover, without the strong support of the City Council approving the right policies, ordinances and contracts, very little could be accomplished. We have something special in this town. City staff works hard daily to protect that special quality. It is an honor to lead them.
Having grown up in a federal employee’s household (Lewiston Postmaster) and been a federal employee (active-duty with the US Army, twice), having been a county employee (Nez Perce County Prosecuting Attorney), a state employee (Magistrate and District Judge) and finally a city official (first as Councilor and now as Mayor), I have first-hand knowledge about which government-type constitutes the most responsive to the people. Local government wins the race every time. Having lived in the northern part of the state (Lewiston and Moscow) the southeastern part of the state (Pocatello) and now in the southwestern portion, and currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Association of Idaho Cities, person-for-person, pound-for-pound, I’d match Emmett’s staff against any in the state.