Not quite “Back to the Future” or “Groundhog Day,” though new Alliance Deputy City Manager Jeff Sprock has been here before. He called the community home for five years a little over a decade ago. Streets are the same (some resurfaced); his job is different. Three weeks at city hall and he has returned with a new perspective.
City Council hired Sprock this fall, weeks after he applied for the position. Current City Manager Rick Kuckkahn had selected Sprock in advance of his upcoming retirement. The former Mitchell (Neb.) city administrator started Nov. 1.
Though the previous position spanned four years, the job was Sprock’s first in city administration. He noted similarities and contrasts in the two Panhandle towns both in government and the community. The most noticeable is population. Mitchell counted 1,702 in the 2010 Census. He said Mitchell is a Second Class city and Alliance (at about 8,600 people) is a First Class city. Both have five-member city councils with the mayor elected by voters in Mitchell and fellow Alliance council members selecting the mayor. Sprock will continue to belong to most of the statewide organizations he has been a part of such as MEAN (Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska). He has also been active in the League of Municipalities. Alliance brings more extensive infrastructure. The city governments share consultants, including the same city attorney, and civil engineer. “In our area of the Panhandle (there is) a lot in common,” he said.
Sprock took the initiative to apply for deputy city manager as a potential advancement and shift from his duties at Mitchell. “I struggled a little with work/life balance,” he explained. Kuckkahn advised it wouldn’t be an issue here. Sprock wore “many hats” before compared to working with department heads who handle many of those day-to-day responsibilities.
Upon leaving Alliance in 2006, Sprock had enjoyed his time and friendships in the community. He said, “(I thought) it would be good to be in a community I like,” adding Mitchell was, “a great place to grow and work.”
Sprock and his family could call Alliance home again for years. As deputy he serves on an interim basis. When Kuckkahn retires, he said, council will decide whether to advertise for a city manager or simply select somebody by a majority vote. Sprock hopes to advance to the job, coming on board as voters elected two new city council members. Kuchkahn has turned over his space at city hall, with Sprock working from his former desk.
On the surface Sprock’s past careers bear few similarities to where he is now. He was the GIS coordinator at the North Platte Natural Resources District at Scottsbluff and worked as a wildlife biologist at the Alliance Game and Parks office. He earned a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Biology from Ottawa University. Sprock is currently working toward a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “I enjoyed some policy making at the NRD,” he said. Mitchell was an opportunity to apply another aspect of his schooling, which he found “rewarding (and) a good fit for who I am …”
The NRD, on a different level, involved a governing board. His GIS position introduced aspects of an organization.
Goals, for now, apply to the weeks or months before Kuckkahn’s departure. Sprock noted he is still fairly new to city administration. A priority has been getting to know the city council members, city employees and more gradually community members, and their respective expectations and visions for Alliance. He is seeing, “where the community wants to go and living up to the vision statement (Building the Best Hometown in America).”
Looking at other Panhandle cities, Sprock said Scottsbluff has about 5,000 more people, yet the Alliance budget is almost that size. At Mitchell he formed connections with Northwest Nebraska city leaders, which will continue to be an asset.
Sprock finds many aspects of Alliance very appealing, for example the fountain, its museums, bike paths, dog park, water treatment and other assets, some added since he was last a resident. He said there is a lot more going on. Sprock emphasized the friendliness of the people as well, and commented, “I don’t want to muck it up. I want to maintain and make improvements where that can happen.”
Stepping into his new office, Sprock is taking a different approach than he had previously. “I try to get to know everybody and what they do,” he said, referring to the diverse city staff. “I used to be involved in almost everything,” even grant writing, where he helped secure $3 million. Sprock pointed to Finance Manager Randy Waggener who has the budget “down pat.” Sprock intends to attend committee and board meetings at least once a quarter.
As a larger city Alliance has features and organizations Mitchell lacks or shares on a smaller scale. Sprock said Alliance has an active Community Redevelopment District (CRD). The airport here holds a municipal role, where Mitchell’s is recreational. Alliance has a landfill and Mitchell goes through Gering. The care center in Mitchell is owned by the city compared to independent facilities locally. Sprock mentioned the cultural resources found in Alliance, and more going on in general.
Managing municipal administration of any size means, “People’s lives depend on what you do,” Sprock said. “Water just doesn’t turn on,” he added, mentioning several vital services depending on “a lot of people who work very hard.”
The infrastructure that delivers city services relies, in part, on components decades old. Sprock said a challenge is to maintain and upgrade resources in a more than 125-year-old city. Sections of municipal code, some 80-90 years old, are being updated.
Sprock depends on the same services since moving a few weeks ago. He does not miss the commute, mentioning how Angora Hill presents a challenge when driving his Toyota in slick conditions. Boxes occupy space in the new home with unpacking ongoing. Sprock arrives with wife Angelique and their children Obadiah and Hadassah. Finding a church to attend has been part of weekends. He is plugged into the Rotary Club. As they settle in Sprock will take time for hobbies. He likes to hike, cycle (in town and mountain bike) and anticipates playing on an expanded disc golf course at Laing Park.
“I’m excited about all those things Alliance is doing to make this a quality city,” he said.