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Local government administrator to mentor ASU public affairs students as visiting professional

Jan Perkins is former manager, assistant manager of cities in California, Michigan

January 11, 2024

A public-sector administrator with more than 30 years of management experience in local government will mentor students in 2024 as Arizona State University’s new Harrell-Hutchinson Visiting Urban Management Professional.

Portrait of woman in white button up blouse, with blonde hair and blue-rimmed glasses
Jan Perkins

Jan Perkins is former city manager of the California cities of Fremont and Morgan Hill, former assistant city manager of Santa Ana, California, and former deputy city manager of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her year of sharing her experiences with ASU public affairs students began Jan. 1.

The position is named for two former Arizona city managers — Lloyd Harrell of Chandler and Mike Hutchinson of Mesa — whose gift to the college funds the initiative. Perkins will make in-person visits, hold Zoom lectures, deliver speeches, moderate discussions and give consultations. She said she plans to visit students and faculty members at the Downtown Phoenix campus the week of Jan. 21.

The position is based at the School of Public Affairs, in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Perkins currently is a consultant with the nationwide local-government firm Raftelis. She works with elected and appointed officials on governance, strategic planning and other issues to help local governments improve their effectiveness.

Perkins said she enthusiastically accepted the role, calling it a wonderful opportunity to encourage students to go into local government.

“I long have been very committed and dedicated to supporting students in their endeavors to become leaders in government,” Perkins said. “We need good leadership in local government, and it begins with education to inspire young people to become leaders. If I can inspire young people to go into local government and become city managers, assistant city managers and department heads, I will feel I’ve done my job.”

Perkins is the second local government executive to serve as the visiting professional. The first, Robert O’Neill, former executive director of the International City/County Management Association, held the position in 2023.

Perkins said she plans to focus on the fundamentals of delivering quality public service to communities. Local government is the closest most people get to the public sector, and the services it provides are fundamental, she said.

“When people turn the tap, they expect the water to come out nice and clean. When they drive down the street, they don’t expect their car wheel to drop into a pothole. When they call 911 when a loved one is having a heart attack, they expect fast service,” she said. “I will say to students that while many of the big policy issues are important, we should not get lost in them. It’s better that we make sure those fundamentals are taken care of.

Her mentorship also will include instruction on the component parts of local government, and ethics and innovation, or in other words, “doing the right things for the right reasons,” she said.

Finally, Perkins said, she plans to ask students about their aspirations.

“When I’m talking to students or people early in their careers, I ask them their career goals. Often they say, ‘I don’t know, maybe a department head, maybe something mid-level.’ I tell them to aim high,” she said. “If you aim too low, you’re never going to get there. They’ll undercut themselves by aiming low.”

O’Neill said he had an “enormously rewarding year,” and thanked Harrell and Hutchinson for the funding and establishing the program. He also thanked School of Public Affairs Director and Professor Shannon Portillo, and the school faculty, for welcoming him to the campus and to classes, where he spent time with both undergraduate and graduate students.

“It has been such a privilege to spend time with the students and faculty of ASU,” O’Neill said. “This idea and approach should serve as a model for other universities to encourage students to enter public service.”

O’Neill said the highlight of his year was the time he spent with three classes of the Marvin Andrews Urban Management Fellows and the program’s coordinator, Cynthia Seelhammer.

“Each of them is bright, passionate for public service and committed to making their communities and the world better, more resilient and more equitable,” he said. “One could only be optimistic about the contributions they will make to public policy and public administration.”

Perkins holds an undergraduate degree in sociology and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of Kansas. She completed the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government from Harvard University and is an ICMA Credentialed Manager. She is a founding board member of Women Leading Government, assisted in recreating the women in public administration conferences at the University of Kansas, and served on and chaired many ICMA committees.

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