EXIT INTERVIEW: Randy Groom, Visalia's Retiring City Manager

Visalia City Manager Randy Groom will be retiring in September after nearly 40 years in the public sector. Groom virtually sat down with California City News for an “exit interview” to give us some reflections on nearly four decades of public service.

City News: How did you know it was time to retire?

Groom: I have shared with city manager colleagues that our professional lives have two opposing, and eventually intersecting, trend lines – age and tolerance. With each passing year the age trend line naturally rises. Most of us enter public service with high tolerance of unreasonable expectations, difficult people, challenging obstacles, and the weight of responsibility.

For me, and I suspect with many others, over the course of a long career in public service our tolerance tends to diminish. As the diminishing tolerance trend line eventually intersects the rising age trend line, it is “time to go home.” For me, the good fortune of entering public service at the tender age of 20 allows me to retire at the arguably tender retirement age of 57 with a sufficient financial foundation. Good fortune – not brilliant planning.

City News: What inspired you to become a public servant?

Groom: I entered the public sector at the age of 17, taking a summer job at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office as a summer youth worker. In the ensuing years, despite several detours – both planned and dumb luck – I remained in public service in a variety of positions.

After 18 years of my “first tour” at the City of Visalia, I veered off into the private sector for a few years, and found that it simply wasn’t my calling. I was meant to be in public service. It is a calling.

I re-entered the public sector at the Visalia Unified School District for several years before coming back to the municipal world as City Manager in Exeter. I have always felt that despite the challenges and pressures this is where I am meant to be.

City News: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to make local government into a career? Any tips on how to continue advancing? Is there a track that is the most promising path to City Manager (planning, communications, operations, etc.)?

Groom: While serving as City Manager in Exeter, I was asked to participate in Career Day at the local middle school. At the end of that day I realized that there isn’t a child in America who aspires to be a city manager. I began my public service in law enforcement. Regardless of the nonsense about defunding police and similar movements, public safety remains a noble profession and one I recommend as a rewarding career. I had no intention of being a city manager. Even during my 8 or 9 years as Deputy City Manager I really didn’t aspire to be city manager. It is always good having someone between you and the elected officials!

But I trusted the journey. I took advantage of opportunities as they arose. At each step of my career the doors I was aiming for would close, and others I had little awareness of would open. I became City Clerk in Visalia almost by accident. I took advantage of an unexpected opportunity with almost no idea what I was doing. In hindsight, each seemingly random change of course in my career led to the next step. As Frost aptly put it, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way…” Trust the journey. Be curious as doors open. Be willing to stretch. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

City News: What will you miss most?

Groom: As many would say in similar situations, I will miss the people. Some of them. Public service brings you into contact with the best and worst of humanity. There are many people I will be thrilled to never see again. There will also be many people I very much hope to see again. I have had the good fortune to work with people in several different organizations over the years, and to associate with colleagues in other cities and agencies. Many of them are very capable, bright, enthusiastic and dedicated servants. Those are the ones I will miss. The ones I won’t miss were described well by Theodore Roosevelt in his speech “Citizenship in a Republic.” “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.” Google the speech if you have never read it. Proudly step into the arena and serve until it is time for someone else to step in.

City News: Career highlight?

Groom: I don’t have a single career highlight. I count a number of small victories and bright spots along the way perhaps. I take most pleasure in the tangible things I will leave behind. While at the Visalia Unified School District I completed a long list of construction projects. For many years I will notice those campuses, buildings, and facilities and find satisfaction in my involvement. We arrived at an elementary school design that is now being used as a template and I am very proud of that work. At the cities I have served I will notice the planning, the improvements, and the teams of good people that remain in place serving the communities.

City News: What's next for you? How do you plan on spending your retirement?

Groom: Virtually nobody I know who has retired with the intention to sit on the porch, fish, or play golf for the rest of their years has done so. They all do something. Doers keep doing. So, while my wife and I will most definitely focus on our time together, and travel, and spend time with kids and grandkids, we will both continue to do things professionally that we find satisfying. For me, I am partnering with the Western Fire Chiefs Association to assist with their recruitment of the next generation of fire chiefs. We also hope to take their very unique recruitment process into the search for police chiefs and city managers. I worked with the WFCA for our recruitment of Visalia’s current fire chief, and I was so impressed and curious about their very attractive approach to recruiting that I enthusiastically accepted their invitation to partner with them. I think that those looking to expand their professional horizons into the ranks of fire chief, police chief, and city manager will find the WFCA recruitment format as intriguing and valuable as I did. I very much enjoy helping others find their next right place.