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Melissa Bohse, City of Middleton

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Melissa Bohse, assistant finance director/human resources manager, City of Middleton.

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What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

In public service there is a dichotomy between policy and administration. Elected officials are selected to represent the public and set policy. Professional staff members are hired to do the research, be experts in their area, and make sound recommendations so that elected officials have the information necessary to make difficult policy choices. The biggest challenge in public service is to balance the needs of various departments competing for limited resources. Municipalities in Wisconsin have a levy limit that places a maximum on revenues. City council and staff often weigh equally important projects and proposals and prioritize what projects can be completed in what order. The challenge is that all of the projects benefit the community and are important but simply can’t be done at once. Every elected official and staff member will have a different outlook on the priorities. It is our job to build consensus, make compromises, and move forward with what is best for the city as a whole. The most rewarding aspect of working in public service at a local level is that you get to see the results of your work on a daily basis and the benefits of this work on the community.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

In 2005, I began my public service career as management analyst for the Village of Woodridge, Illinois. My first four years allowed me to work for Village Administrator John Perry. John dedicated his career to public service. He focused on the village’s mission statement, “To achieve a high quality of life by providing superior services in a fiscally responsible manner.” In fact, he required that staff memorize the mission statement and be able to recite it back. He wanted us all to focus on the mission every day. John worked hard to create an environment where the expectations were high but clearly defined. We knew the goal and had the tools, trust, and freedom to reach it. He became well known in the field for his focus on staff development. His training methods were even jokingly referred to as the “John Perry Boot Camp.” John retired in 2009 after a 37-year career in city management. He was awarded the Maxwell Public Administration Alumni Award from Syracuse University. This award is presented to an individual who exemplifies the ideals of public service. John is well deserving of this award. He continues to be a fantastic mentor to me and many others.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

I have had the opportunity to teach public administration lessons on a few different occasions for students at different grade levels. The high point for me was teaching second grade students about local government services. I have always been addicted to the game Sim City. To help teach this lesson, I started a game of Sim City and took screen shots of the community at various levels of development. This allowed me to explain the challenges of managing roads, water systems, sewer systems (which always gets a laugh from second graders), snow plowing, garbage collection, public safety, and recreation opportunities while not exceeding the budget. This approach let me show the students how the Sims in our community became very unhappy if you ignored one of these important areas. It also helped me to describe services that exist, but are rarely noticed unless there is a problem, like the toilet not flushing (again, a good laugh from second graders). I was really proud to have found a great way to explain a complex job at a second grade level, while also getting to play my favorite game.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I am a perfectionist through and through. The best advice that I could give my 21-year-old self would be to not be so hard on yourself. Every field has a learning curve, every problem has multiple solutions, every person has different opinions and priorities, and every day is limited to 24 hours. I would tell myself that it is important to learn to set realistic expectations and boundaries. I would remind myself of the cliché that two heads are better than one, so don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself.

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