Michael Baker is a 1999 graduate of the MPA intern-option program, and he has served as the Deputy Village Manager of Downers Grove, IL since 2008. He began working for the Village in 2000 and has previously held the positions of Assistant Village Manager and Assistant to the Village Manager. Michael is an ICMA credentialed manager and he served as a member of the ICMA Executive Board from 2007 to 2010.
Michael began his term in Fall 2015 as the KUCIMAT Board President, and we recently had the opportunity to interview him. Read his story below:
Q: What have you learned in your first months as the KUCIMAT Board President?
It's a rewarding and challenging experience at the same time.
It is rewarding because it allows me to more clearly see the value and contribution of KUCIMATs and the KU MPA program in the practice of professional and ethical local government management and community building.
It is challenging because the School’s alumni network is a diverse group of individuals with tremendous capabilities and potential that has been enhanced as a result of our experiences and relationships tied to KU, and there are many great ideas about how we should honor and build on the exceptional tradition of the KUCIMAT organization, and how we as KUCIMATs can continue to positively impact our communities and the profession in years to come. My challenge in the next 10 months is to facilitate coordinated efforts to realize at least a few of those great ideas.
Q: What are you excited about working on this year as the KUCIMAT Board President?
We are working to tell the compelling story of the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration, including its remarkable legacy, the great potential it has and how we will overcome challenges that stand before us, including our ability to continue attracting talented students in a highly competitive environment. As we do this work, we will invite all KUCIMATs to play an active role by contributing with their time, talents and resources.
Q: How did you hear about the KU MPA program as a prospective student?
Dr. Michael Pagano, a professor of mine at Miami University in Ohio who is now the Dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, encouraged me to consider KU during my senior year of my undergraduate career. At the time, he was involved in a research project with a former KU public administration professor, Dr. Jocelyn Johnston.
Q: What is your favorite memory of being in the program?
It's hard to pick just one, but my favorite memory during my time in the program is the car rides with classmate Quinn Bennion to our part-time internships. I would pick him up from his apartment and drop him off in Merriam before heading to Mission Hills. Along with way, we would have lengthy chats about classes, internships, family and the public administration profession, or we'd just sit back and listen to Erich "Mancow" Muller say provocative and silly things on the radio.
Q: What is something that you learned while in the program that assists you to this day?
Dr. John Nalbandian's four values and the power of stories. What I learned about these topics almost 20 years ago continues to be extremely relevant and useful in the work I do today.
Q: Is there a faculty member, or even staff member, who was your mentor during your time in the program?
No - I learned something valuable from and truly appreciate everyone who helped shape my graduate education. That includes professors, staff members, practitioners-in-residence, and internship supervisors. I realize I have not expressed that appreciation nearly enough, so I'll do it now. Thank you to George, Kurt, Stephen, John, Jocelyn, Elaine, Barbara, Chuck, Dick, Marion, Doug, Candy and Rick for helping me establish a career that I am proud of, challenged by and continue to enjoy every day.
Q: What do you feel has been one of your greatest contributions to the field of public administration?
I've been able to work with and help develop a fabulous team in Downers Grove. As the organization has evolved, we enhanced our capacity to more effectively engage the elected officials in a variety of ways. One way (that I'm proud that I had the chance to help formulate) includes what we call "The Flight Analogy" (see graphic below). It has helped us clarify and communicate to elected officials and staff about our respective roles and responsibilities, and how we can work together most effectively.
Q: In any of the jobs you have held, have you hit any barriers or walls? If so, what influenced your responses and actions to those situations, and how did you learn from them?
I hit barriers all the time - usually I find that they are of my own making. I have come to realize that there is a great number of people that surround me in my home, organization, community, and in the profession (especially from KU) that are well-equipped and eager to help me overcome those barriers.
What most influences my response? Usually it involves repeating to myself a saying that I first heard from Mark Horstman of Manager Tools that can often help me get unstuck. To paraphrase: "When you encounter a problem, look for the solution in increasingly larger concentric circles beginning with your own desk."
Q: Who inspires you, and why?
Mark Horstman and Mike Auzenne of Manager Tools. What they have created, and the story of how they have done it is absolutely amazing to me. Their ideas and recommendations around effective management and communication have built on the knowledge I gained from KU exponentially, and have charted pathways by which I can apply what I've learned in many useful ways.
Q: Anything else we should know?
My life is not complete without my wife, Brigit, and my three kids, Maryn, Isla and Leo, along with all of the joys, beautiful memories and unexpected adventures they contribute to it.
Pictured above: Michael's children, Maryn, Isla and Leo, picking apples.
Pictured above: The Lexington Minuteman, an important symbol to Michael, considering it is a quarter mile from where he did his internship and 250 feet from where he got married.