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A Tribute to Doug Ayres – Part I

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Have you heard of Doug Ayres? If you are old enough, you might have worked for him or taken a class from him. Or, like me, you might have had an experience where he was trying to sell his consulting services to your city. My first experience was the latter. I was Controller for the City of Compton and Doug was trying to convince my City Manager (Allen Parker) that he could solve our problems. His presentation was slick, his southern drawl effective and his experience as a city manager impressive. I didn’t buy it or him. But I knew that he was more effective at selling than I was.

About five years later, I was a consultant myself and trying to sell my services to the City of Villa Park. Doug Dunlap, the City Manager, called me to say that he liked my proposal, wanted a presentation to the City Council and, by the way, Doug Ayres would also be making a presentation to do the work. I had just been handed a lemon, but I was quick enough to attempt lemonade – I replied to Doug Dunlap that I would not compete against Doug Ayres but that I would contact Mr. Ayres to see if we could make a joint proposal. Doug Dunlap liked that idea and so did Doug Ayres. The presentation to the council was made, we got the project and Management Services Institute was born.

To understand why Doug Ayres was so effective, it helps to understand where he “came” from as his story is a consummate Horatio Alger myth. This “Part I” will summarize highlights of his background.

Doug was raised by a single mother who worked as a third-grade teacher in the hollows of West Virginia during the great depression. The town was White Sulphur Springs (WSS), home of the Greenbriar Hotel. He did odd jobs at the Hotel during his high school years and played on the high school football team. Graduating in 1948 and seeing no future in WSS, he followed the footsteps of other boys of that period and joined the Army. His service was between WWII and the Korean War, so he didn’t qualify for VA benefits.

Returning to West Virginia after his service, he enrolled in Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, just across the state line. He paid for college with odd jobs for the City of Salem from digging sewer ditches to typing for the Town Manager. Doug was a good student and after a year transferred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill where he was eventually inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He joined the school’s ROTC program and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. Unfortunately, being color-blind, he didn’t get to be a pilot.

After graduating with honors from UNC in 1953, Doug went to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University on a full scholarship. This school was the oldest and most famous of the graduate schools of public administration where Doug got his MPA in twelve months. After graduation, he got an internship in the budget department of Richmond, Virginia, where he stayed until the City of Salem called him back. During the time away from Salem, Doug had been called on by the City to research various issues, so when the Town Manager suffered a heart attack, the Town Council called on Doug to return as Assistant Town Manager and City Clerk.

During the Winter of 1955, he was offered a job with Public Administration Services (PAS). This organization was located on the “Midway” by the University of Chicago in the “1313” building. This building housed the Municipal Finance Officers of America (predecessor of GFOA), the International City Managers Association (now Management), Council of State Governments, American Public Works Association, Public Personnel Association, the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, the Association of Tax Administrators, the American Water Works Association, yada, yada…. And, PAS was the consulting arm for all of these organizations. While there, he helped draft the constitutions for the new states of Alaska and Hawaii. He helped transition the federal programs in Alaska to state programs. He worked to transition Richland, Washington, from an atomic energy department city to a regular city.

One of his many projects with PAS was a revenue generation project for one of the most respected city managers of the time, L.P. Cookingham of Kansas City. This project would germinate years later in the work that would be done by MSI (the original name of RCS).

The itch to become a city manager finally lead Doug to leave PAS for Melbourne, Florida in 1960. This was the closest city to Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral. Since Sputnik was launched in 1957, this area was seeing the explosive growth that meeting the Russian challenge would generate. His signature achievement was positioning the City airport as a commercial hub for the area which checked the pre-Disney Orlando from that role.

In 1963, Doug accepted an offer from a former PAS colleague to come to Salem, Oregon, as Finance Director and heir-apparent to the city manager. Because of the state constitution, all state offices at that time were located within the capital which presented the city with many unique challenges. Doug was able to use redevelopment monies to expand Willamette University and the Capitol Mall.

Doug was promoted to Captain then Major in the Portland Air Force Reserves and routinely flew his own plane from Salem to the Reserve facilities at the Portland Airport. His promotion to Lieutenant Colonel was scheduled but didn’t happen as Doug left the Portland area in 1968 to become city manager of Inglewood, California. There he would face challenges from the “Forum,” the Hollywood Racetrack and the racial transition of the City.  In 1975, Doug was “retired” from the City as a result of bribes paid the council by a refuse contractor that he wouldn’t recommend.

Until the fateful time that Doug and I connected, he opened a west coast office for PAS, taught at several local universities and managed Laguna Hills Leisure World. Doug had an incredible career and the above only skims the surface. He has written several books about what he learned in local government and has written numerous letters and articles for Public Management magazine (ICMA’s magazine). The reader who wants to know more about Doug can google “Douglas W. Ayres”.

Most of his personal papers were donated to Roanoke College and his work on Alaska & Hawaii has been donated to the respective state universities.

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