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Five Questions with Lafayette College’s Dave Wolgrom

By LVEDC Staff on May 29, 2013

Editor’s Note: On May 29th the Lafayette College Meyner Center held their 11th Annual Forum on Local Government entitled “Local Government Under Extreme Success.” The topic is certainly timely given the Meyner Center’s mission to establish more effective governments, enhance public awareness, spur regional cooperation and assist in the establishment of timely public policy. We asked David Wolgrom, associate director of public service, five questions about the event. 

Q: Your theme this year is “Local Government Under Extreme Stress” – what do you think are the biggest stressors facing local governments in the Lehigh Valley?

A: The continuing financial demand on municipalities to continue their current level of services despite the lack of financial growth due to the lagging economy. It is more difficult than ever to match revenues with growing expenses without increasing taxes, which is something municipalities have always tried to avoid.

Q: The five presenters each had to face demanding and unusual challenges recently.  How did you convince them to come to Lafayette and discuss their particular circumstances?

A: The Meyner Center is an unusual program for a college or university. We provide our assistance to municipal, county, and state government through administrative studies, financial analysis, executive recruitment, preparation of salary/benefit surveys, training, and negotiation of labor contracts. Having been a municipal manager for 27 years before coming to the Meyner Center six years ago gives me a connection to other municipal managers. I understand their challenges and find it easy to speak to them on common ground. After I explained to each of them what the Meyner Center does and my background, it gave quick validity to the kind of training we provide to government, and convincing them to come was not difficult.

Q: While the angle here is local governments, are there lessons here that can trickle down and be beneficial for members of the Lehigh Valley business community?

A: Managing a government is not unlike managing a  business. In fact, I tell people all the time that government is a business, albeit one that is extremely unusual and even more heavily regulated than most business in the private sector. The dynamics of leadership, financial management, and delivery of public services are very similar to the challenges of managing in the private sector. I believe that our five presenters will speak about their individual and unique challenges and how they are working toward resolution in a way that will provide excellent insight for all business leaders.

Q: How did Lafayette settle on the theme for this year’s Forum? What goes into that process?

A: Every year I look for a theme that matches up with what I see as pertinent and relevant challenges faced by local government. At some point, the concept of extreme challenges came into my mind—particularly when I realized how close the issues of managing super storm Sandy and the Sandy Hook tragedy were to us here in Pennsylvania. Once those concepts came into focus, the other two topics fell right into line. I believe that attendees will find the program to be both educational and entertaining.

Q: What sort of turnout do you anticipate this year – and why?

A: I expect over 100 attendees; to date after only one week since the invitation was sent out, we have 75 people registered.  Depending on the registration that comes in over the next week, when I send out my follow-up announcement to government officials, I may have to indicate that seats may be limited.  I believe that attendance will be strong because of the outstanding diversity and quality of the program.  Everyone in our region knows of the effects of super storm Sandy, the Sandy Hook tragedy, and the occurrence of fracking in rural Pennsylvania. When you combine these programs with the Stockton, California city manager speaking about the bankruptcy of a city of 296,000, it makes for a very educational and entertaining program.

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