Monterey visionary Fred Meurer retiring, city leader worked closely with military
December 6, 2013
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- Meurer served in the Army as the public works director at Fort Ord before transitioning to civilian life as the Monterey city manager.
Fred Meurer, retiring at the end of the year as Monterey's city manager, first came to Monterey County in 1977 as the Army test director for final operational tests for the Hellfire missile and the Apache attack helicopter being conducted at Fort Hunter Liggett. In 1981 he became the public works director at Fort Ord. He retired from active duty there in 1986 and joined the city of Monterey. He was named Monterey's city manager in July 1991.
It could be argued that Meurer has done more for the military in Monterey than anyone over the last 32 years. He's helped the community deal with Fort Ord closing, helped prevent the closures of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Naval Postgraduate School (multiple times), developed a business model that saved the city of Monterey and the Army millions of dollars on maintenance, and been the voice of reason amidst fiscal crises and other emergencies.
During a recent interview, Meurer was gracious enough to share leadership lessons gleaned from 47 years of service to his country and Monterey, as well as thoughts on what he sees for the future of the Military in Monterey. (For a detailed bio on Fred Meurer go to the City of Monterey website.)
Q: How much of your Army experience did you use in your roles with the City of Monterey?
A: An immense amount. I used all of my leadership and management skills that are obtained through serving in the Army; whether it be leading troop units in combat or leading an installation-based directorate, it's all about people, it's all about taking care of people, and it's all about understanding how organizations work as organisms. (Below are four leadership touchstones)
--If the organization knows that leadership genuinely cares about them, and you demonstrate that continually, they will reward you with loyalty that you can't place a value on. It doesn't matter if it's a city manager talking to a custodian with a family, or it is a colonel talking to that new private out of training.
--Clear articulation of the mission and an ability to stay focused on that mission even when being bombarded by the less important, the crisis of the day, and latest fad.
--Unity of command. Not only give people the responsibility to get things done, but you've got to give them the authority and resources to get things done.
--Good, if not great, people are going to make mistakes. I've learned to treat mistakes as investments in the future. If an organization doesn't feel safe in knowing that it's okay to make mistakes, as long as they are trying to do a great job, they will hunker down and play it safe -- and slowly sink into mediocrity or worse.
Q: Which leadership model has served you will?
A: What we've been able to accomplish in Monterey has been possible only because we've been blessed with leadership at the city council level and the department head level that understood the value and necessity of maintaining consistency with ideas, that gave mission-type direction, and then provided the resources to achieve the objectives.
That's how we came up with privatized housing that started at Fort Ord 10 years before the Army adopted it as Residential Communities Initiative; that's how we came up with what's referred to as the Monterey Model that guides the public works relationship between the city of Monterey and the Presidio; and that's how we came up with consolidated fire departments. And, generally, all the other great things about the city: those all came to be because of city councils that had a vision, articulated the mission, and then gave the resources and authority to the staff to get the job done.
It's been that type of leadership that allowed us to survive the base closure of Fort Ord in 1991. And it enabled us to prevail against similar actions in 1993, 1995 and 2005 for DLI and NPS.
Let me share an example of elected leaders articulating a mission, providing guidance and resources, and allowing an organization to do the job. In early 1993 the Army put DLI on the base closure list. They wanted to close the Presidio of Monterey, move DLI to Fort Huachuca and contract with the University of Arizona for the curriculum. After the decision was made public, I went to city council to ask for a sizable amount of money, permission to turn over day-to-day city management to my assistant, and the ability to do whatever I thought needed to be done and go wherever I thought I needed to go to do it, to convince the base closure commission that the recommendation was wrong. Without question, the city council gave resources and the authority I needed. The then-mayor gave me and my staff the final piece of mission guidance: "When it's over, don't look back and say, 'I wish I had done this or that.'"
Q: What is the biggest change with regard to the military since you first arrived in Monterey?
A: There has been a sea change in understanding the value of our linguists. None of our enemies speaks English as its first language. Few of our allies speak English as their primary tongue. Thus, providing a corps of language professionals has been critical to our security. Linguists are a central component to our national security, our homeland security, and our economic security. DLI, coupled with the Monterey Institute of International Studies and Language Line, provide an absolutely incredible human infrastructure that is critical for our nation's success.
Q: Look into your crystal ball, what do you see in Monterey's future?
A: The future is the past. The two communities, Monterey and the Military, are going to be faced with a future of budget cuts, changing threats, and an expectation of perfection or near perfection. I believe, if I am just looking at Monterey, there is never an opportunity to sit back and rest on our laurels. We have to constantly ask ourselves: what can we do better?
As a community we need to ensure we do absolutely everything we can to ensure DLI is more mission capable and more cost effective, because it IS in Monterey. That takes continual vigilance and collaboration among the city leadership, the business community, the education community, and of course, the military leaders.
Q: How do you maintain that vigilance?
A: As city manager, I think about the military's needs all the time. Even though it's not my direct responsibility, I worry about their barracks, and how well TRICARE is working -- because I want to ensure it is cost effective for DLI and NPS to stay here.
Through our monthly meetings with the military, we identified a shortage in family medicine available through TRICARE. After learning of that issue, I worked with the military and the civilian medical community to fix the problem to better support our military families. That regular dialogue between city leadership and military leadership reveals issues that the civilian community can help with and allows us to help with the problem early on. Our mindset has to be: how does the civilian community support or affect the military community.
It takes continual vigilance.
Q: Closing thought?
A: As I leave, the city council has to decide what role it wants to take with the Military going forward.
Fred's exit line: It's been fun.