Scott Spence has always liked government. That’s easy to see in his education and career paths, which from the start have made an upward trajectory through the political world. He was born in Oregon. His mother was an English teacher and his father worked in construction. Spence has two children — Nick, 7, and Sophia, 9, and they are just now getting into that whirlwind of what’s called “youth sports.” However, he finds equal enjoyment in business — and the perfect place to match both interests in his job at one of the South Sound’s growth hotspots.
Was there an experience from that time that piqued your interest in serving in city government?
One time I was a volunteer for the city manager, who was responsible for providing services for 2,000 to 3,000 people.
That’s when I realized that government is just like a business because in both you’re serving — you’re trying to improve the residential climate and the quality of life somewhere.
What was your first job and how did you get it?
Well, other than farm-type jobs, I worked in construction for my father. I did all sorts of things in building and I learned a lot about that type of business world and the hard work of the people in it.
But I always remembered that I should stay in school.
At Southern Oregon University you double majored in political science and history, and you followed that with an MBA from Willamette.
What was your vision of your career at that point, given that combination of studies?
Really, I had two points of focus. One was that I saw at the time there needed to be a major change in the idea of the role of city government; that it needed to have more of a business model and focus.
Political science was the major that had the most foundation in government.
Then, to be competitive in that area you need a master’s degree and I liked the program at Willamette.
The idea that government, businesses and nonprofits should be interworking together is what they tried to teach. They saw, even in the 1990s, that government needed to incorporate more of a business focus.
Your first city jobs were in Sherwood, Ore. What were some of the opportunities you saw and some of the biggest challenges, there?
First, at the City of Woodburn, I worked in the city manager’s office and I saw many opportunities for government to connect with businesses. I could see how things could occur at a greater level and have an impact on the community.
Then in Sherwood, as the assistant to the city manager, I also saw a lot of opportunity to bring business into the levels of government. It was one of the last outposts for the recovery period of the late 1990s, so it was a chance to connect community residents with the government and interested businesses.
The challenge was to keep up with infrastructure to provide services for the demands of people — and to put it in the right places.
When I became the assistant city manager, my duties and tasks were very similar, but obviously it was also different.
A lot of my job was also to go out with Sherwood road crews to get the scope and balance of what we were doing and to find what more was needed.
From Sherwood you hopped up to Lacey, where you first came on board as the public affairs director. Which is easier — taming the media or being in front of it?
Really, going from Sherwood to Lacey was quite a different world. And Lacey at that time really had a need for public relations.
With that experience, I gained a great opportunity to understand the value of media — its immediate scope, reach and pull. It was a great way to make contacts, and put out ideas.
From that job I gained a healthy respect for the media.
You were the assistant city manager starting in 2003 and were just promoted into Greg Cuoio’s place this past August. Now that you’ve had time to get your feet wet, is the job more or less challenging than you thought it would be?
Something that people should understand is that the city manager isn’t responsible for the whole city — it’s not balanced on the responsibilities and reputation of one individual.
The city is the responsibility of the City Council as a whole, which broadens the concentration into a whole organization whose role resonates throughout the community.
As for the job, I think I already had an idea about what the job would be, although not really as complete of an idea about the differences as I understand now.
The learning curve is great. I am still just beginning getting into the rhythm of it.
Tell our readers your two or three top priorities for the city during the next year or two and how you’re planning to tackle them.
In terms of priorities for Lacey, we need to meet the greater goals of the City Council. In terms of those goals, we’re still in progress.
Gateway Town Center, of course, is a priority. The application for water rights is the immediate goal because opening that area impacts all things in the community. We’re trying to get that project moving forward.
We’re also thinking about financial issues, as well as issues related to the critical areas ordinance. A lot is depending on decisions there.
We have to figure out how will we do services and how will we do business.
As far as enriching Lacey’s business community, what is your approach?
The City of Lacey needs to maintain healthy relationships with our business community, especially in these economic times. And we’re definitely looking for more businesses, because we’re continuing to grow and we have a lot to offer.
What are we looking for?
Businesses that can create more jobs, not just fill empty buildings. Businesses that adhere to our community standards and that are interested in enhancing our community infrastructure.
What is your ultimate vision for Lacey 10 years from now? And how can the city government, businesses and public bridge the gap to make that happen?
My ultimate vision is for growth, but it’s the vision of City Council as a whole that’s attributed to the community.
We want to see a thriving city, to enrich our relationships with our businesses and institutions, and to continue making it an attractive place to do business.
We want to make sure that we offer the highest quality and standards of life because that improves how we are perceived — and how the conditions of our business climate are seen.
What is one lesson you learned as a boy that you frequently use on the job today?
Never claim credit for something you didn’t do. You shouldn’t boast about something you had nothing to do with. And never talk about yourself.
Any last thoughts?
Just because you are in a community where you’re perceived as successful, you can’t sit idle. We need to create our own future.