The MPP Program welcomed speaker Rebecca Fleury, City Manager of Battle Creek, last Thursday afternoon. The event was part of the ongoing MPP Speaker Series. Prior to her current role, Fleury held several positions in Kalamazoo, worked as Community Development Specialist in Hastings, and was Village Manager and Financial Director of Middleville.
Throughout her career, Fleury’s talents and experiences have enabled her to adapt to new roles while serving Michigan’s communities. Her visit gave students and faculty an opportunity to hear her share the lessons she has learned as an effective city manager. She also offered advice to students interested in similar careers in local government.
As City Manager, Fleury directs the administration of Battle Creek. She supervises all departments, oversees operations, and handles many of the day-to-day activities of governing. She also works closely with and advises the city commission, helps resolve problems, represents Battle Creek to the public, and ensures that the government acts as a unified body when implementing its decisions.
Fleury discovered her passion for local government while working at Michigan State University, facilitating community and university relations. She calls city management a “viable, rewarding, and professional career.” Each day requires attention to a different problem. These new challenges and her closeness to the community’s residents makes her work interesting and rewarding.
Being a good manager requires a diverse skill set. Fleury urged students to use every opportunity to learn new skills and familiarize themselves with government activities. Fleury herself learned about many different departments, particularly financial divisions, prior to achieving her goal of a managerial position.
Fleury emphasized the importance of relationships to her work as a city manager. In this role, she must communicate effectively with employees, elected officials, residents, and representatives from other communities. She called collaboration and personal relationships essential to effective management.
Within the community and government, conflicts over issues like schools, demographic changes, and economic development decisions require careful consideration and a balancing of relationships and priorities. For example, Battle Creek has taken a proactive role in becoming a Welcoming City. This is part of an inclusive program where communities work to make all who live in a community feel like they belong. The city also promotes reuse and revitalization of buildings, in part, by marketing closed school buildings to developers, as part of its economic development efforts.
These examples fit with Fleury’s theme of managing situations even with a limited capacity for action. She noted that, like many communities around the state, Battle Creek struggles with difficult budgetary decisions, such as funding police and fire needs and managing employee benefits. Fleury stated that these problems require “constant due diligence” and are often dependent on state-level policies that contribute to fiscal uncertainties.
Students asked insightful questions about policy challenges and Fleury’s experiences. Topics included the role of sustainability, public school mergers, experiences with sexism, and what would-be managers should know about the communities they want to serve in.
Fleury encouraged students to learn all they can about any place they want to work and consider whether it is a good fit for both the individual and the community.
Fleury’s talk was a valuable opportunity for students to learn more about city management, but her experiences and knowledge are relevant to students interested in any level of government. She illustrated how knowledge about a wide range of policy issues and careful management of relationships can help improve decision-making.