by Lorie Lewis Ham
Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with Reedley City Manager Nicole Ziebe. Check out the interview and get to know her, her hopes for Reedley, and more about Reedley’s partnership with Animal Compassion Team.
Lorie: When did you become the City Manager?
Nicole: I was appointed the City Manager of Reedley in August, 2011. Prior to that, I was the Deputy City Manager for the City of Fresno.
Lorie: How did it come about?
Nicole: Funny you should ask this, since I had no intention of ever leaving the City of Fresno. I was very happy with my job and I absolutely love the Fresno community, despite the immense challenges that face us there. I got a call one day from the then-Interim City Manager, Ray Forsyth, who asked if I would take a look at the job. Initially I told him “no”. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and ultimately talked me into coming to Reedley to meet with the Council. Once I talked with them, it was crystal clear that Reedley is the place for me. My heart was instantly won-over once I toured the community and talked with the Council about the issues here and the incredible opportunities here to truly make a difference for the community.
Lorie: Where are you from?
Nicole: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Received my Bachelor of Political Science degree from Cal State Fullerton and my Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California.
Lorie: Do you have a family?
Nicole: My husband and I have been married for 11 years and have two awesome kids: a 9-year old boy and a 6-year old girl.
Lorie: What do you like to do in your free time?
Nicole: I am an avid back country hiker. It is such a stress reliever. I am also an avid horseback rider. When I am not doing one of those things, you can usually find my nose in a cross-word puzzle or murder mystery book.
Lorie: What is one fun thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
Nicole: Growing up in Los Angeles, there wasn’t much opportunity to have farm animals. So when I moved to the Central Valley, I bought some acreage to have horses. I have several adopted horses and an adopted burro. It’s such a different lifestyle, but I love it. Most folks think that City Managers spend their evenings at dinner parties and such – I spend mine mucking out stalls and chicken coops. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Lorie: What changes have you implemented or taken part in since taking the position?
Nicole: Our team has implemented many, many changes since last August. Some of these have been big items, such as updating our Emergency Operations Plan, which hadn’t been updated in over a decade, and completely redesigning our Annual Budget document for ease of reading and transparency to our public. Most of our changes have been focused on cost-control and fixing operational problems. These include realigning our human resources practices with current law, restructuring our payroll process for better control and accountability, migrated to paperless paychecks for cost-savings, re-negotiated leases for copiers and large assets, audited our development impact fees and master fee schedule for almost full cost-recovery, implemented specialized software for energy cost savings at City water well sites, revamped our fleet maintenance area for cost reduction, and a host of other things.
Lorie: Can you tell me a little about the changes in animal control recently?
Nicole: We have been fortunate to have an effective animal control service in Reedley. That is in large part to an exceptional employee, John Urbano, who takes his job as an animal control official very seriously, but does his duty with extraordinary compassion and caring. Reedley has been looking at various ways that we can reduce expenses, yet do our jobs more effectively. Animal Compassion Team has partnered with us to try to adopt out our stray cats and dogs locally. We have a formal partnership with the Fresno County SPCA, and we were spending several hundred dollars in fuel and shelter drop off fees each month to drive animals to the west side of Fresno. ACT has done a tremendous job to get our local community involved in fostering and adopting our strays, which has dramatically reduced the need, and therefore cost, of taking animals to the SPCA. We estimate that since we began our partnership with ACT, almost 80% of our stray dogs have been adopted or fostered, and we have been able to save literally hundreds of dollars each month.
Lorie: What plans and changes do you have in mind for the future and would you like to see happen?
Nicole: Reedley has some very innovative projects in its near future. Kings Canyon School District and the City of Reedley have created a partnership to build the “Central Valley Transportation Center” a joint-use facility that will house the fleets, maintenance centers, certain offices, and educational facilities for both entities. The Joint Center creates efficiencies between governmental agencies by sharing facilities, but more importantly, will be home to fueling stations for all different alternative energy fuels such as electric, gas-hybrid, Compressed Natural Gas, Liquefied Natural Gas, E-85, Hydrogen, and solar fleets. The attached training center will train mechanics in new green technologies and fuels.
Reedley College, another partner in the project, was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to provide curriculum for the training center. The City was awarded with over $1.5 million in grant dollars for the initial fueling station, which will be Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to fuel the existing CNG school bus fleet owned by Kings Canyon Unified and the four new CNG-powered garbage trucks owned by the City of Reedley. The project tackles two of the region’s biggest challenges: high unemployment and poor air quality. The training center is expected to generate at least 50 new jobs each year in green technologies, which will allow more local fleets to be transitioned to clean alternative fuels because mechanics will now be available to service them, which has a been a major barrier to clean fleets in the Central Valley up to this point. It is also important to note that Kings Canyon Unified has just taken possession of the nation’s very first all-electric school bus. This bus was a concept of Kings Canyon Unified, who partnered with Smith Electric to build a school bus on existing electric truck chassis. The bus will be the first of the electric fleet to plug in and recharge at the Central Valley Transportation Center.
Lorie: What do you like best about Reedley?
Nicole: Without a doubt, the thing I like best about Reedley is the people. We are incredibly diverse, and that rich diversity makes us strong. We are home to Reedley College, which brings us young, bright folks. We are home to three well known retirement villages, which brings us older, wiser, civic-minded people. We have young families coming for our wonderful K-12 system and low crime rate. We have wealthy, long-standing families and poor farm worker families. Yet, while we have so many different worlds coming together in Reedley, the entire community seems to have the same pioneer sense – strong spirited and fiercely independent, yet kind-hearted and neighborly for those in need. All of our diversity keeps us continually looking at things from new viewpoints. I think that is why Reedley has been able to keep up in a world that is continually changing.
Lorie: What do you think are Reedley’s selling points for tourism?
Nicole: Reedley has so many fantastic tourism draws. We have two inland sandy beaches that attract hundreds of tourists on hot summer days for boating, floating on inner tubes, and relaxing under shade trees by the water. Reedley’s G Street in Downtown is home to numerous yummy restaurants and quaint boutiques. It is also home to the Reedley Opera House, a historic theater building where the River City Theater Company performs professional-quality musicals and plays year-round. For the agri-tourist, no visit would be complete without visiting the Wednesday night farmer’s market in Downtown, or one of the many roadside fruit stands. And for aviation fans, Reedley Municipal Airport provides quick access and newly restored runways and taxiways.
Lorie: In what ways would you like to see Reedley grow?
Nicole: Like most cities in the Central Valley, it is going to be critically important that City Hall make itself open and helpful for new industry looking to relocate into the Central Valley. For over a hundred years, agriculture and its related industry has been the dominant industry in Reedley. Between the economic downturn, stringent laws, unanswered immigration dilemmas, and a host of other ills, agriculture has taken a beating. If Reedley is going to continue on into the future as a thriving city, we must diversify our industry and be open to different types of commercial and retail business. This isn’t to say that we turn our backs on agriculture, but rather, that we strengthen our economy which will ultimately help agriculture in the Valley.
Lorie: How are you & the City dealing with the current economy?
Nicole: It’s no secret that the economic turmoil around the country has hit California cities particularly hard. Reedley has been able to weather the economic storm through a variety of means, including asking its employees to “give back” wages and benefits, implement furloughs, lay off staff in 2009 and 2010, and implement dramatic cost-cutting measures.
We’d like to thank Nicole for chatting with us and we hope to speak with her often.