City Manager George Lahanas: Fulfilling a public service dream
George Lahanas has a self-proclaimed commitment to public service, and this manifests in the soft-but-surely spoken East Lansing City Manager's passion for keeping the city ticking.
A native of Queens, New York, Lahanas came to Marquette, Mich. in 1988 at age 17 to study criminal justice at Northern Michigan University. He then went on to graduate with a master's degree in public administration in 1995.
“When I was in New York City, I liked the idea of being someplace that was very much not New York City,” Lahanas said. “Marquette, Michigan: natural beauty, giant lakes, you know, less dense. I liked that idea a lot, so that’s why I came here … and I just loved it, I love this state.”
Lahanas had his sights set on a career in public service from the get-go, he said.
“I thought I might be in law enforcement, but decided that I liked the work of cities and what cities did,” Lahanas said.
Lahanas first came to East Lansing in 1999 as a labor relations specialist, where he helped negotiate labor agreements in a "heavily unionized" city. In October 2011, East Lansing City Council asked Lahanas to serve as the city's interim city manager while a national search was conducted to fill the vacancy left by previous City Manager Ted Staton.
The search attracted a wide pool of roughly 45 applicants, Lahanas said. Five of which, including him, were brought in to do a series of public interviews.
“It’s a little bit tougher, I think, being in the interview process when you’re the inside candidate, because other people get to come from far away and if they get it or don’t get it it’s no big deal for them, but when you’re serving as the deputy, and someone else is going to be hired in front of you, all of a sudden it feels a little bit more urgent,” Lahanas said. “I thought that I knew the organization well, I knew the community well, I knew the people who work here, so I thought I had a good opportunity to go for it.”
About three months, the city chose the inside candidate in January 2012.
The City Manager serves as East Lansing's chief administrative officer and holds the responsibility for overseeing preparation of the annual budget, supervision of all city departments and implementation of council's policies, according to the city of East Lansing's website.
"You get to have a great impact on the community, a positive impact," Lahanas said. "You get to ensure that the government you’re running is accountable, it’s transparent, that we’re providing the services people need, so it’s all that I would’ve imagined it, and it’s exciting, and every day is different. I think I’ve got one of the best jobs that you can have. ... This is what I want to do, this is what I’ve been working my career towards.”
Mayor Mark Meadows, who also served on council from 1995 to 2006 and as mayor between 1997 and 2005, said Lahanas was hired during his first tenure and has grown into his current position.
“I’m pretty familiar with him, in fact I feel a little bit like he’s grown up before my eyes," Meadows said. "I think he met his wife right after we hired him and they ended up getting married during that time period, so he started his family and started his career while I was there. ... He has been a real East Lansing person and has done a great job in the position.”
Councilmember Shanna Draheim said Lahanas has been an asset for the city in dealing with recent financial woes.
“He’s incredibly thorough and has worked really hard to deal with major budget issues in our city and still make sure that we are delivering great city services for our residents, which is a very challenging feat," Draheim said. "I think for a good chunk of his time as city manager we have been very budget constrained, and he’s made some very smart and strategic decisions about how to cut costs and how to manage resources … (he’s) really effective at that."
A day in the life of East Lansing's city manager is filled with meetings, a lot of reviewing information and a lot of planning, Lahanas said.
Despite his often busy schedule, there is nothing he'd rather be doing. On top of getting to work with a lot of great people and getting to know a lot of community members, Lahanas said working in local government in itself is extremely rewarding and exciting.
“I couldn’t have picked a better job or a better profession,” Lahanas said. “(It took) 12, 13 years of public service plus a master's (degree) and all of that time to get to that position, but it really was, I think, exactly what I would’ve hoped for."
Lahanas' goals for the future simply involve continuing to serve and improve his city.
“I enjoy the community, I enjoy the organization, I’m having a good time doing it,” Lahanas said. “I think there’s a lot of work to be done here still, we have a lot of budget challenges and I’d like to be in a situation where this organization and community had the resources I think that they deserve, to provide the resources our residents deserve, so I think there's a lot still to do and a lot of challenges, and I'd like to continue to work on those and make this community even better."