Taylor reflects on four years in Ferndale

Sam Taylor has become known as an advocate for transparency, answering hundreds of inquiries on local Web communities over the last few years. (Mark Reimers/Ferndale Record)

Sam Taylor has become known as an advocate for transparency, answering hundreds of inquiries on local Web communities over the last few years. (Mark Reimers/Ferndale Record)

Former journalist, now city employee leaving for position in Morro Bay, California

FERNDALE — Ferndale’s Assistant City Administrator Sam Taylor announced last week that he has accepted a similar position in the City of Morro Bay, Calif. A former journalist, Taylor was first hired to be a city clerk and public information officer in Ferndale in 2011. Since then, he has taken on other job titles and become a constant online presence for inquiring Ferndale residents.

Taylor sat down with the Ferndale Record to reflect on his time with the city. The following is a portion of that interview in question-and-answer form.

 

FR — So what is your new job?

Taylor — I’m the deputy city administrator in Morro Bay. It includes similar duties. I’ll get to continue to work on improving community conversations — I really believe in that. I’m a big cheesy geek about it. It has to be two-way and not just press releases. In fact, I don’t really do press releases. (In Ferndale) I also handled economic development initiatives and managing IT. Right now, I’m in the “kitchen sink” position. But that’s because I asked for it. I like to be helpful. (The Morro Bay) position will also encompass special projects. I will be busy and that is good for me. Typically, assistant or deputy administrators are pretty diversified anyway. I thought it was a good professional move and, to be honest, it was a very flattering hiring process. I’ve never been pursued before.

The initiatives and opportunities in Morro Bay are very similar to what is going on here. They have a slightly different take on it and a different scope, but it is still similar in many ways. It’s a nice place. I’m moving from one beautiful place to another beautiful place.

 

FR — What did you learn after moving to city work that surprised you as a journalist?

Taylor — As a reporter, I spent a decade working with governments of all sizes. I was very familiar with the rules and staff positions. But I found that the story wasn’t being told well enough. Here, it’s a small community government and the story of the work being done needed to be told — as it should in every community. This is changing though. I honestly think there are a lot of people my age or so who are eager to take a new approach. It was almost low-hanging fruit though to change that.

I was a watchdog journalist. I was a thorn-in-the-side kind of guy. My initial perspective of Ferndale City Administrator Greg Young (my boss) was to be distrustful. But as with most stereotypes, they are rarely totally true. I truly came to realize just how honest and straightforward he is. … I started to trust a little more.

 

  FR — Mayor Jensen hired you partly because of your journalism background. Should there be more crossover like this?

Taylor — Yes, I believe that. I had already learned so much about the laws, rules and procedures that governments had to abide by. I recognized that they weren’t doing HR well. So we became much more proactive in that area. We updated personnel policies to make sure it was all compliant with state and federal law. These were things I could see right away. I spent a lot of time arguing with attorneys as a journalist. … I liked to argue. I always tried to have as much knowledge as any other person. I had just written a story in the Bellingham Herald about an Open Meetings Act violation and Gary said, “Come help us do it right.” I was able to start with a lot of confidence and then I could continue to do all of the additional formal education along the way.

I’m not the first journalist to make this kind of transition. Journalists often jump into the public sector. But this just fell into my lap and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

 

FR — What got you into journalism?

Taylor — I was an English major for two weeks and discovered it to be a little too pretentious. I then wrote a band review for the paper and it was bad. But I didn’t like English. It ended up being the journalism teachers who made me fall in love with journalism. These mentors impressed upon me right away the value of the discipline to communities. I started right away as a watchdog guy. One who was very influential was Dave Cuillier, whose dad used to be Ferndale City Attorney incidentally. He was working at the Idaho Statesman in Boise. I learned a lot about open records and I was already an annoying journalist before I was even a professional.

I liked the feeling and the opportunity to do something new every day. As a government reporter, that was the pattern — something new every day. That preference serves me well in my job now. Also, skill in communication and being able to pick up something and then disseminate it quickly and effectively.

 

  FR — What did you first think about Ferndale and how do you view it now?

Taylor — My first impression was as a political reporter. Ferndale was one of seven cities I covered. At one point, I asked to stop covering Lynden partly because Ferndale was fun to cover. There was a lot more drama. Debates happened. People were really passionate. It was fun to watch it from the outside. The personalities are really diverse and that makes the community healthier. It was just fun. It’s still fun from the inside and elected officials make my job challenging because they are all so different. They didn’t let you skate off. They ask hard questions. They might not go with you in the end, but it made me a better public administrator because you never think you can get away with anything. You can’t half-ass it. My job is to work my butt off and it’s their job to hold us accountable on behalf of the people that hold them accountable. It’s how it’s supposed to work and it’s a great system.