'This is a good fit' Vermillion's new city manager John Prescott, his wife Karen (left), and their two children, Sarah, 3, and Joshua 5, were greeted by well-wishers at an open house last week at the William J. Radigan Fire Station. By David Lias On a shelf in John Prescott�s city hall office, one can find what one would expect � framed photos of his wife and kids.
And, the unexpected: a scale model, fully-operational, miniature garbage truck.
The toy truck was given to Prescott as a parting present by members of the Kearney, NE city-run sanitation service.
This simple gift has a place in his office � for now at least � because it says a lot about how he eventually found himself working as Vermillion�s city manager.
�I used to go around and talk to third grade classes, when they were studying about government, and explain what the city did. And the kids would ask me how I decided I wanted to do this job,� he said.
The answer lies in a time when he was about the age of his son, who has not quite turned 6 yet.
�My parents told me that I was absolutely fascinated with the process of garbage collection,� Prescott said with a laugh. �I was enthralled by the fact that we would put the cans out there, and the garbage crews would come and empty them. I always wanted to watch that happen, and I think that was my earliest interest in public service, and thinking about the services a public entity might provide.�
Later, when he was in high school and his parents subscribed to cable television, he found himself drawn to programming that he admits many of his classmates probably avoided.
�We had public access channels, and I would watch city council meetings,� Prescott said. �I was always fascinated by the process of government.�
Prescott, 37, grew up in Sioux City, IA, and received his bachelor�s degree from the University of Northern Iowa. He later earned a master�s degree in public administration from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
He realizes he�s still the new kid on the block in Vermillion. Every day, he learns a little bit more about the city and its people.
He�s finding the community and his personal management style to be well-
Prescott believes he and other members of the city staff can best serve the public by identifying problems and bringing them to the attention of the city council.
�The city council can also identify community needs and concerns that they have and bring those to the table,� he said. �I see our job, as staff, to gather as much input as we can about possible alternatives to help solve a problem, and to make recommendations of what may be, from a staff standpoint, the best mechanism for solving it.�
Prescott personally feels this is the best approach for a city manager to take. He noted that city managers often are in his situation � working, and eventually living in a new municipality, surrounded by many people who have spent their entire lives in the community.
�I don�t know that a city manager coming from outside of a community has the background or the knowledge to say that we should do something a certain way,� he said. �We don�t have the history; we don�t have the sense of community coming into the door that you develop over time.�
Citizens first learned a bit about him during a town-hall meeting held in the Vermillion Library earlier this year.
The 60 people who had applied for the city manager�s job had been narrowed to three � including Prescott � and local citizens and city council members evidently liked what they heard.
Prescott � who served 12 years as assistant city manager at Kearney, NE � was offered the job of Vermillion�s new city manager.
His first day at work was March 7.
During the past month, he�s toured the city�s various departments �so that I could see our facilities. I�m trying to place the town in my mind, and learn where different facilities are at.�
Prescott is impressed by the dedication and length of service of the city�s employees.
�They care a great deal about their positions and are very proud of them, and they work hard to do the best job that they can,� he said.
Another plus, Prescott said, is the high level of involvement in public affairs shown by volunteers.
�It�s phenomenal to me when I look at the different committees,� he said. �The number of volunteers we have and the depth and dedication they go to is great.�
Prescott is certain he made the right decision when he accepted the city�s job offer earlier this year.
�This is a good fit ? I very much enjoy the position here. The community has been very friendly in terms of sharing knowledge and making me feel welcome. This is all working out really well, and it feels good,� he said.