A city is a living breathing creature made up of thousands of parts and with a life of its own. It functions all hours of the night and day. From one day to the next, different things can happen and those things, like unexpected flooding from heavy rains, must be managed. A city, in order to be managed accordingly, therefore needs a chief administrator. In the case of Oakland Park, that chief administrator is City Manager David Hebert.
David Hebert: Decades of Experience in Public Service
Mr. Hebert came to Oakland Park with a decades of experience in public service. He has been the City Manager of Oakland Park since 2014. In his role as City Manager, Hebert has the power to make many decisions about our City’s day-to-day administration. However, major decisions, as per our City Charter, are made by the City Commission. He can give counsel but ultimately his job must result in executing the decisions made by our elected officials.
LivingInOaklandPark.com interviewed Mr. Hebert and had a chance to ask him a number of questions about his position as City Manager. In this article we summarize that interview in which we learn more about Hebert himself and what his role as City Manager is like.
Question: How has your (previous) experience helped you as a City Manager of Oakland Park?
“I think that everybody that has had the ability to experience different places, different jobs, meet different people, to continue they educational experience…I have an undergraduate degree, a Master’s degree and a law degree… all of that gives an individual a broader sense of the opportunities in life and also a better understanding on how their own talents can be put to use. I have, whether it was in the district attorney’s office or now in city management worked in local government for more than 30 years. I feel called to serve the public. I have no doubt that if I had put my mind to it I would have made a lot more money and maybe had some very different experiences in my life. But I chose this route and I am very grateful that it has provided me with a very rewarding sense of accomplishment. Serving the public, I think, is an honor and I am humbled by that”.
Click here to see Mr. Hebert’s resume and the breadth of experience he brings to Oakland Park.
Question: Since it is not an elected position, how do you go about becoming a City Manager?
“Well there a lot of avenues that people can and do pursue. A lot city managers have previous careers in the military or in different facets of city government. My entrée to city management happened because I was the chief administrative officer of the Westchester County’s District Attorney’s Office. At capacity I handled all of the budgetary issues…all of the external and internal communications, a lot of the very same activities that a city manager would be involved in. And when the opportunity opened up for me to obtain a job here in South Florida, in fact the City of Fort Lauderdale in 2004, I thought about it and I decided that’s a route that I wanted to pursue. The District Attorney’s office is an elected office, and so it is frequently the case and not dissimilar to city management, where one person who has been in, who either retires, or moves on or loses re-election when their replacement comes in they frequently want to look at turning over top management. The district attorney that I was working with, in 2004, had indicated a desire to move on to higher opportunities within government. So I did not want to take a risk at that time as to whether or not I was going to be with the District Attorney’s office beyond her tenure. So when this opportunity came up in Fort Lauderdale I decided to take advantage of it. And I was in Fort Lauderdale for about 6 or 7 years”.
I couldn’t resist lightening up the conversation and asked “Did it have anything to do with the Sunshine down here?”. Mr. Hebert laughed and shared the following: “My last visit to the doctor was about making sure that I kept using sunscreen!“. We laughed a little more and the interview continued.
Question: As the City's Chief Administrative Officer, you're in charge of making sure all the cogs and the wheels are functioning, it's a big job, it's a lot of stuff to handle...
“Well, it is a job where daily you don’t know what it is you are going to be dealing with. My job on Saturday and Sunday was to be at the office and try to monitor that crazy rainstorm that we had. (He is referring the rains before tropical storm Eta that brought their share of flooding to Oakland Park). We invested a lot of money … my predecessor John Stunson made it a commitment to make sure that our infrastructure, our water system and our stormwater and wastewater system were going to be invested in and maintained regularly, so fortunately for us that wise decision has put us (inaudible)… when we compare ourselves to other cities in our area whose infrastructures are failing…but of course when there is an unusual amount of rain we are in South Florida and our system is porous, in many ways we sit in sort of a bowl between the ocean and the gulf and water accumulates and there is only so much opportunity for that water to dissipate through our drain system. One our drainage system is overwhelmed we have to rely on that water seeping through the permeable earth…. and that’s why a lot of what we are doing today in our improvements of adding sidewalks or new streetscapes also has to take into account … well when you cover up dirt with concrete you have to make provisions to make sure that water has some place to go… “
Mr. Hebert continued to explain how climate change has and will continue to affect Oakland Park. He also made a distinction between places in our City that were annexed, like North Andrews Gardens, that still have county infrastructure. To hear his complete answer, access the full interview on YouTube.
Question: Development is something that everybody loves to talk about. One of the things that was on the public's mind was the Oakland Park Square project and how that was going to be a little bit taller than initially expected. Could you comment a little bit on that project and the new developers that are coming into town.
“…When I arrived in Oakland Park in late 2014 at the end of the recessionary time that we experienced, I looked around the City pretty carefully and I made a general assessment of what I thought needed to be looked at, and considered, and one of the things that I never understood was that the City owned land on north Dixie to the north and to the south of Park Lane (NW 38th St.) right there on north Dixie here in the Downtown and that those lots were empty. And I come to find out shortly that they’re not just empty, they’r owned by the City and they’re polluted and they’ve been there being utilized a couple of times a year as a parking lot. But I knew so long as you have large vacant property in the Downtown it was going to be a hard sell to convince people that things were happening in the Downtown. And so the first thing we did was take a look at what we needed to do to clean those properties up because so long as property is owned by the City it is not generating any ad valorem taxes … and you have the additional market of vacant properties in your downtown. So we went out with the authority of the commission, they approved a contract to see if we could develop a viable plan for those lots that would further the goals of our CRA….”
Mr. Hebert’s response goes on discussing goals of the CRA and also the decision to add a skybridge to the Oakland Park Square. Go to our YouTube channel to watch the full interview.
Also it is worthy of note that after the interview with Mr. Hebert the lease for Oakland Park Square was up for a vote at the November 4, 2020 Commission meeting. The public voiced concerns in our Living In Oakland Park Facebook Group. Since these concerns came up after the interview, the City addressed them by answering questions posted in this article we published: Answers to Questions Regarding Oakland Park Square Project
By virtue of being the City Manager the position comes with a lot of responsibility and also a lot of commentary and criticism from the public and the media. I asked Mr. Hebert what he thought of it and how he handled it.
Question: Being the City Manager you are in the hot seat on a day-to- day basis how do you deal with criticism that comes in from the public or from the media? How do you wrap your mind around that and deal with that?
“…I think it was JFK that said ‘you show me a man that doesn’t have a critic, and I will show you a man that hasn’t done anything’ and that’s how I feel about criticism. And I also know that for many people, maybe for most people the heart of criticism really is about a sense of pride and ownership and wanting what they think is best for their community. I know that the people for the most part if not all of them who came and expressed an opinion about the height of the building for example or any new development are doing it because they believe passionately in their position and that’ what makes up a community is people who are willing to engage passionately and to tell how they feel about things.
You can’t have thin skin and survive for very long in my kind of job. It’s challenging sometimes when it is unfair. There are people that for one reason or another have just decided they don’t like me and almost all of them don’t know me. I’ve never ever had a situation where anybody that wanted to talk to me couldn’t talk to me if they wanted to and most everybody who I have seen, most of whom on the internet say pretty nasty things haven’t even tried to call me. They don’t want to know the benefit of how I feel or how I think or what I have done. They don’t want to explain intelligently and rationally how they feel to me, they just want to be angry…”
All in all our interview was just shy of two hours long. Among the many things we talked about, Mr. Hebert answered questions about how the City had operated on a lower millage rate (property tax related) for a number of years, and commented on the various development projects including the City Park on the site of the Collins Community Center and the new multi-use development project brought by RAM at the old Kmart site.
To see and hear the full and unabridged interview and the direction in which our City on the Move is going under the direction of Mr. Hebert, go to our YouTube Channel.