Former mayor of College Station, Ben White, spoke to students, faculty, and staff of the Bush School on Monday, September 30, 2013, as part of the Conversations in Leadership speaker series.
Before beginning his public service in College Station as a planning and zoning committee member, a council member, and mayor, White had served as the executive director of several professional associations, on multiple city councils, and as mayor and mayor pro tem for the City of Garden Ridge, Texas.
White spoke about the influence his grandfather, also named Ben White, had on him and his public service. White said he saw his grandfather as a natural “people person” who believed that the strength in a community was in the local people and those doing the work at the city level.
In the Q&A following his remarks, White talked about his experiences during his long career in local government. When asked about working as an elected official with the paid staff, White offered a good analogy. He said as an executive director, he met regularly with the president—the chief paid-staff person—to make sure they were on the same page in terms of the organization’s future. As White explained it, as the ED he was the “driver” of the bus (i.e., the organization); and it was his job to get others there safely, while the president set the location of where he wanted the organization to go. “And if I don’t get you there safely, it’s time to find a new driver of the bus,” White said. He continued this philosophy when he was mayor of College Station.
As mayor, White said he was always impressed with the high level of professionalism and education of those working in city government.
“Most people at the city management level have master’s degrees,” he said. “I would often sit in on the management team meetings. I don’t believe in micromanaging, but I wanted to show that I was involved and interested in what the departments were doing,” he added.
When asked for indicators of a successful team, White cited lack of micromanagement by individuals on the team, as well as people who are positive, willing to listen to both sides of an issue, and concerned with the team’s progress. He also favors team retreats to set priorities and determine plans for the coming year.
One of the signature programs White initiated as mayor was the monthly Coffee with the Mayor program, when citizens could ask questions and interact with the mayor. To further expand communication with the voters, White said he would also invite the department directors to attend.
When asked what influential political leaders he looked up to, White cited Presidents Harry Truman and George H.W. Bush.
To view the talk, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EGbUvr8tfE&list=TLWJBkvK3wJJvOvL5r1ZLSf7YyFCwHxX8M.