Great Barrington town manager learned valuable lessons working for NYC's Bloomberg
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Jennifer Tabakin describes working for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as intense as a top-tier graduate school program with lessons that still resonate with her today.
"The mayor sets high standards," said Tabakin, now the Great Barrington town manager. "His style was direct and to the point. To brief the mayor and deputy mayor, you had to know your details, you could expect a lot of questions, and you had to know your work in a very detailed way. The mayor wouldn't hesitate to call anyone, or ask you something as you walked down the hall."
Bloomberg's three-term reign as mayor of New York wrapped up at the end of the year.
Tabakin worked for the Bloomberg administration for eight years, joining during his second term in 2006. Her role in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development included overseeing lower Manhattan, which inspired her to seek her current position.
The experience made her ready to tackle local projects like the $5 million renovation of Main Street and overseeing the implementation of the town's recently passed Master Plan.
"In three years, I hope that many of the initiatives identified in Great Barrington's Master Plan are underway," she said, "and that this work will help to preserve the natural setting of Great Barrington, the wonderful quality of life, and support appropriately scaled growth to foster a sustainable town."
While describing her experience in New York as "incredibly enriching and rewarding," she also said Great Barrington was the ideal place for her -- both professionally and for her family.
"I am very happy to be in Great Barrington, and being town manager is the perfect job for me following my time and wonderful experience in New York City," Tabakin said.
Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton, who has worked with four town managers on the Select Board and Planning Board, praised Tabakin on the energy and enthusiasm she has brought for overseeing the town. He also said she's done a good job of promoting communication.
The board will convene in January for her evaluation, but Stanton said he's impressed with how quickly she has acclimated to her new role.
"I think there's definitely a learning curve," Stanton said, "and I think she's done an amazing job of getting up to speed and learning how things work."
Tabakin joined the New York City mayor's office as an experienced program manager, handling large budgets for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. She was hired by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who is now CEO of Bloomberg L.P., and she reported to the deputy mayor of economic development. By the time she left, Tabakin was a senior program manager overseeing government operations in lower Manhattan on behalf of the mayor's office.
During her years in the administration, Tabakin said the project she enjoyed most was directing the construction of $300 million in new parks to replace and add to those lost with the construction of the new Yankee Stadium. She also oversaw a $280 million East River waterfront project that included a two-level park and bike path, along with other projects.
The responsibilities she faced were similar to those involved with running a town, including handling street reconstruction, daily traffic issues, street cleaning and working on community concerns. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, she worked with federal and local agencies to organize relief efforts.
"That really shaped what I wanted to do [next]," Tabakin said.
Working for Bloomberg, she also learned a full day's work wasn't enough if there wasn't progress around the administration's core focus of improving residents' everyday quality of life. That goal was only achieved through long-term planning, and zeroing in on the most important matters of the day, she said.
"The management philosophy was making sure you are focused on the most important things and you utilize your time wisely, because that's the key to getting everything accomplished," Tabakin said.
Speaking as if reading from bullet points on a corporate memo, Tabakin said the administration's accomplishments were a result of an ambitious agenda; attention to detail; the ability to work hard; accountability; watching things carefully; and monitoring outcomes in a collaborative environment.
Projects can't be accomplished without funding, but she said the ambitious plans accomplished during Bloomberg's term required a laser focus, she said.
Bloomberg exited public office recently to great fanfare. During his tenure, New York City underwent a building renaissance with 450 miles of new bike lanes, the rezoning of 37 percent of the city, and adding an additional 40,000 new buildings, according to the New York Times.
In the Bloomberg administration, everyone -- including Bloomberg himself -- sat in a cubicle, and downplayed hierarchical titles. The administration also encouraged initiative, creativity, progress and fostered collaboration that included breaking down the separation between agencies.
The mayor led New York City on the mantra, "Make every day matter." It's a philosophy that Tabakin carries on today in Great Barrington.
"Making every day count is the key to good management and completing projects," she said.
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