Interview with Past MMASC President Chris Freeland, Assistant City Manager of West Covina
Written by Greg Kwolek
What city do you work for, how long have you been there, and what's your title?
I've worked for the City of West Covina for over 14 years. I was originally hired here as a Management Analyst II and moved up the ranks. Just recently, I was promoted to Assistant City Manager/Community Development Commission Director. Due to some recent vacancies, I am also serving as the Acting Community Services Director (aka Parks and Recreation) and Acting Director of Human Resources.
Sounds like you've got a full plate! How many hours a week do you put in, and what do you do to unwind?
I work at least 60 hours a week, which also includes attendance at a variety of community events (i.e. Little League Opening Ceremonies, Business Grand Openings, and a variety of civic events). Local government management can be stressful at times, so it's important to take time and relax outside of work. My wife and I like to travel and dine at nice restaurants. I also enjoy playing golf, and I'm within a month of finishing a full restoration project on a 1966 Mustang. The same car that I’ve had since I was 16 years old.
Make sure to bring that out to the next MMASC event! What initially got you interested in local government?
When I was a high school student at Damien High School in La Verne, I had to complete 100 hours of community volunteerism to graduate. For my project, I got the chance to volunteer in the City Council and City Manager Office with La Verne City Manager, Martin Lomeli. Once I finished the project, the city brought me on as an intern. Mr. Lomeli remains a friend and supporter 25 years later. Local government work excited me, and the project and internship turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong interest and passion for local government.
That's a great story! Have those early experiences shaped your thinking on recruitment and staff development in any way?
Absolutely. I believe strongly in internships and mentorship. While working in West Covina, we have brought on numerous interns, developed a Student Government Day, and hosted MMASC events. I am still very active in MMASC and will continue to be indefinitely. In addition, I had many great mentors who've helped develop, support and shape me along the way. I currently mentor young local government leaders who are interested in the profession.
Were you ever in a position where you felt underutilized? What did you do to get noticed?
Of course! There's always plenty of work to do, so I made sure to volunteer for projects that no one else wanted whenever possible. I was proactive in asking for these additional assignments and challenges. For example, when I was a Management Analyst, I asked to work on the city's trash contract, animal control agreement with the county, cell tower rental agreements, and a wide spectrum of projects no one else in the organization wanted to work on. By doing so, I became more valuable to my organization and increased my visibility with the City Manager and the City Council.
My successes and failures helped
develop me professionally.
What are some challenges facing West Covina?
Right now the biggest challenge is the recent vacancies in directors and executives. In the past 12 months, we've replaced or are in the process of replacing 6 out of 8 Department Heads and we currently have an Interim City Manager. As such, there has been a significant loss of organizational historical knowledge. Everyone is wearing a lot of hats. Filling these vacancies is a priority to get West Covina back on track. I remain optimistic that even though West Covina still has a variety of significant challenges before the community, with a good team of Department Heads and dedicated employees, we will come out stronger than before.