“I’m open to listening and helping, but I need reasons for doing things,” says new Douglas County Administrator Pat Bloomingdale. And his sense of humor no doubt comes from his late mother, author and humorist Teresa Bloomingdale.
– Photo by Michael Tran
Douglas County Administrator
Bloomingdale Had 15 Years Experience
As Deputy Before Assuming Chief Role
By Scott Polski
The Daily Record
Replacing a successful, long-time government official can be a daunting task at best. Being the person who actually replaces such an official can be downright overwhelming, even if you are, by most all accounts, the most qualified and reasonable candidate.
So when Kathleen Kelley retired last year as the Douglas County administrator after serving in that position for 15 years, her chief assistant, Patrick Bloomingdale had no illusions. He wasn’t even sure he’d get the job.
“I never took it for granted that I was a ‘shoo in,’ not at all.”
In fact, Bloomingdale took time to sit down with each member of the County Board. “I wanted to explain my philosophy and the direction I saw the office going in the future.”
Like his predecessor, Bloomingdale had a long history in the Administrator’s office. A lifelong Omaha resident and Westside High School graduate, Bloomingdale attended UNL before moving back to Omaha and attending Creighton Law School. While in law school, Bloomingdale began working for Douglas County as a clerk for the County Attorney’s office.
After he graduated in 1995 he was offered a position in the County Attorney’s civil division. He held that position for 3-and-a-half years.
“In December 1998, Kathy Kelley asked me to come to work for her as an administration specialist. I took over certain duties as time went on. She eventually created the deputy administrator position and I became kind of her right-hand man. I handled contract negotiations and other duties from April of 2002 until this past January when I took over as the chief administrator after Kathy retired.”
The title County Administrator may not be readily definable for many people. Unlike the County Attorney or Sheriff, positions with more visibility and that most county residents have some experience with, the specific duties of Bloomingdale’s post may be more mysterious.
“The primary responsibility is carrying out the policy directives of the county board, supervising the staff and advising the county board as they form those directives. I also make sure that the department directors are working to mitigate county liability as they deliver services in cost-effective, efficient manner.”
The county provides a wide variety of services, to so many people, that financial planning must be a primary concern.
“Many of the services that the county provides are required by statute. The main source of funding for most of these services is property taxes, so we must work to be as efficient as we can.”
Bloomingdale says that one of his primary goals is to “provide county services in an efficient manner at a high level with limited resources. I think that the saying ‘do more with less’ is so overused that it has become a cliché. It presumes great inefficiencies and I don’t think that there are great inefficiencies in our operations.”
But in his position, Bloomingdale must take into account that resources are not limitless. “Given the very tight budgets of the past few years, I think in most areas the best we can hope for is to do the same with less. But we continue to look for ways in which we can improve and become more efficient while at the same time meeting the public’s expectations. We recently managed to get a levy increase and some of our funding comes from grants, but a large part of our total budget of $325 million comes from property taxes.”
Because of the financial limits, pressure can come from many sources including heads of various county departments, county board members and tax payers.
“This job keeps you in the cross hairs all the time. Dealing with so many people with so many various interests – obviously you can’t do your job if you’re constantly trying to please everyone.”
Working closely with the previous county administrator did have some advantages.
“One thing I kind of knew from working with Kathy was the importance of asking the right questions. Too often people can be afraid to ask the question that needs to be asked. One of my pet peeves in this position is when people don’t speak up when they should.”
This silence can be caused by embarrassment. “Sometimes people avoid asking questions because they feel like they should know the answer and don’t want to admit they don’t.”
When asked about things he wanted to do differently from the previous administrator, Bloomingdale avoided sounding critical of his former boss.
“Kathy Kelley had developed such a high level of authority, such a high level of expertise in so many areas, that I think it was a little intimidating. I’m here to serve. I’m not a CEO type who creates policies, but as an administrator, I’m here to help the commissioners, department heads and board members carry out the directives they create. I think it’s refreshing to not have commissioners intimidated by me, not shutting down when we discuss things, finding that I am easy to work with.”
One of the other lessons Bloomingdale learned from his experience as deputy administrator harkens back to his legal training. “I try not to take what people say at face value, I try to dig deeper.”
With so many varying interests vying for limited resources, decisions must be made based upon the most accurate information. “If someone wants to show me why I should or shouldn’t do something, give me some proof. Show me a statute or case law supporting your position. I’m open to listening and helping, but I need reasons for doing things.”
The variety and wide range of matters that his office handles is one of the best things about the job, according to Bloomingdale. “Every day is different. We handle so many different areas of county services. We handle everything from corrections, human services, law enforcement to the juvenile corrections center to mental health services. It’s always something different.”
His job requires so much focus that Bloomingdale says his wife finds him to be slightly scatterbrained at home.
“It’s like being at work takes so much focus, that when I get home, I just mentally relax. My wife notices that I can’t find my keys and things like that.”
Bloomingdale describes himself as something of a nerd away from work.
“I’m interested in astronomy and that kind of stuff. I watch NOVA on TV … I mean, who does that? My 15-year-old daughter doesn’t hang out with me much any more.”
A dedicated Cornhusker fan, Bloomingdale enjoys going to the football games with the family in the fall. And he has no problem finding a companion for the games. “My six-year-old son and me are pretty much best buddies.”