When Aurora’s new city manager paid a visit to Political Science Instructor Bobby Pace’s state and local government class at the Community College of Aurora this month, students did not hesitate to combine their academic pursuits with personal concerns about living in Aurora.
Noe was peppered with questions about the city and its operations, and students wanted to know about crime, ward boundaries, the budget, FasTracks development, and dangerous traffic intersections. Noe graciously answered every inquiry and said that the session was a good representation of what it’s like to be city manager. “The challenge with having a government job is that when you field a complaint or concern, citizens don’t care who is responsible for it or who gets it done—they just want it done!” he said with a smile. “I have a pretty aggressive open door policy and will meet with virtually every citizen about their concerns. I can’t necessarily solve every problem, but I have a responsibility to listen and try to come up with solutions.”
Aurora’s city manager since late December, Noe spent an hour talking with students and outlined how the politics and logistics of running a mid-sized American city is much like running a large corporation. He offered a personal account of his evolution from a career as a high school teacher to the upper echelons of city government in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Fort Collins. He started out as a volunteer for his local city council and “got addicted to the idea of local government and what it can do for citizens.”
Noe said that there are a lot of similarities between Corpus Christi, where he held his most recent position, and Aurora. “Despite being 1,200 miles apart, with one city on the water, the other not, they are quite alike, believe it or not,” he said. “Each city has about 2,700 employees, and a budget of approximately $600 million. And both are diverse, urban communities.”
He added that local government is an important part of daily life in any community. “Local government helps give a foundation for a higher quality of life, because we oversee crucial infrastructure such as roads and water,” he explained.
Because he is new to the city, Noe said he spends a lot of time in “learning mode.” When asked what a typical day looks like, he laughed: “Well, we use a Microsoft Outlook calendar, and there are no ‘blanks’ on that calendar,” he admitted. “And the filled timeslots don’t stop at 5 p.m.” Noe added that he never knows what a day can hold; he recalled a recent tour of Children’s Hospital, where he was suddenly recruited to read a Dr. Seuss book on Read Across America Day. He also cited visits to the Aurora Campus for Renewable Energy and to the city’s newest water treatment facility. “There is no substitute for actually seeing things,” he said. “They are opportunities to share and to listen, because a large part of my job is to hear what issues and concerns there are in the community so that we can work the solutions into what we do.”
Noe encouraged students with an interest in government to get involved in a citizen’s advisory group and spend time shadowing a government employee or elected official to learn about the elements of city government.