As seen in The Volante
Last May, residents of a small town in southern New Mexico hired on a USD graduate student to manage their city.
Andrew Finzen is the city manager of Elephant Butte, a city of less than 1,500 residents.
Finzen described it as a “support town” for nearby Elephant Butte Lake.
Finzen, who’s originally from Sioux City, earned his bachelor’s degrees in political science and philosophy from USD in 2013 and his master’s degree in public administration, with an emphasis on state and local government, in 2015.
While completeing his bachelor’s degree, Finzen was the president of Phi Delta Theta and had completed a few internships prior to the completion of his master’s.
He began applying for permanent employment during the final semester of his master’s degree.
“When I was in the application process, I sent apps across the country,” Finzen said, adding that his job search spanned from the east coast to the west coast.
Among the first responses to his application were city officials from Elephant Butte. When he became one of the finalists for the job of city manager, he was flown to the city for an in-person interview and was offered the job one week later.
And so, only two weeks after receiving his master’s degree, Finzen moved to Elephant Butte and was sworn in as city manager May 20.
“The city manager is the chief administrator of the city,” he said.
Much of the day-to-day operations of the city are his responsibility, Finzen added.
He’s is in charge of policy implementation, developing and implementing budgets, personnel management, project oversight “and a whole lot in between,” Finzen said.
Though somewhat young to be in charge of a city, Finzen is actually older than the community of Elephant Butte itself, which was incorporated in the summer of 1998.
Similar to the city of Sturgis, SD, Elephant Butte is a quiet and small community much of the year, but swells to contain more than 100,000 tourists on big vacation days like the Fourth of July, Finzen said.
Southern New Mexico is “definitely different” than Iowa or South Dakota, Finzen said, though it’s similar in the ways in which its citizens value individual liberty and gun rights.
Finzen said he’s met USD graduates, in addition to many individuals from North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, in Elephant Butte.
While Finzen said being a city manager is “not as glamorous as it sounds,” he did admit it’s a “high profile position.” Finzen said the sunny climate of southern New Mexico is “a lot more manageable” than the weather of his native region, with temperatures there presently ranging between the 40s and 70s.
One of Finzen’s former instructors, Matthew Fairholm, described Finzen as a “very committed and hardworking” student. Fairholm, a professor of public administration, said a number of USD graduates go on to become civic leaders.
“That’s the whole goal – many of our students are now managing cities,” Fairholm said.
While many USD graduates become city managers in the Midwest, Fairholm said Finzen went further away than the typical USD grad.
“I’m impressed by him,” Fairholm said, adding that because Elephant Butte is such a new community, “he gets to shape how the government is run.”