CPSE Board of Directors
Jeff Pomeranz is the city manager for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is the first non-fire service president of the Board of Directors for the Center for Public Safety Excellence. As he reaches the end of his term, CPSE Corner sat down with him and asked him for his thoughts on his experiences with CPSE over the past 20 years.
CPSE Corner When did you first become aware of CPSE?
Jeff Pomeranz I’ve been involved with CPSE for over 20 years. I first became aware of CPSE when I was city manager at West Des Moines (Iowa) and the fire chief talked to me about how he wanted to pursue accreditation. He convinced me that it was important and something worth doing, so I supported him and the department through the process.
As part of this, I had the opportunity to attend the accreditation hearing and I was really impressed with what I saw and the commitment everyone had to continuous improvement. After the hearing, the commission chair for Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) talked with me in the hallway, congratulating me on our department gaining accreditation, and asked me if I would like to serve on the CFAI commission representing the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
I had a lot to learn and served for about 10 years on the commission. During this time, I became a huge proponent of accreditation.
CPSE Corner Was it a hard sell for the fire chief to convince you that the department should pursue accreditation?
Pomeranz The chief really sold me on it, but I talked with a couple of other agencies (who had gone through accreditation) and I became even more supportive. We took it to the city council, which already took a lot of pride in continuous improvement, so it wasn’t hard to convince them. The police department had already been accredited through CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) and EMS then received its accreditation after the fire department. Receiving accredited status really boosted the reputation of the fire department.
CPSE Corner How has the accreditation process evolved over the past 20 years?
Pomeranz We now have over 300 departments accredited, which has been a huge growth. While numbers aren’t the most important thing, and we are seeing a greater commitment to accreditation, we certainly expect to see more acceleration over the next 10 years. This is also happening on the credentialing side where we are having an explosion in officers becoming designated.
We are looking at ways to modify the accreditation model, following our own path of continuous improvement. We don’t want to lessen the high standards we have set, but we want to get more departments and individuals involved.
We just rolled out a new designation for Public Information Officers (PIO). We are committed to growing with the times and making positive changes where it is appropriate.
One of the big changes that we have implemented is a stronger focus on our customers. While we have a lot of expertise on the CPSE Board and Commissions that we use, we really try to involve our customers in how programs are put together, how we grow them and how we need to modify them. We really have become more committed in the past few years in listening to these customers and then making changes where they are needed.
I’m really proud of where this all started (CPSE) with just a couple of chiefs getting together and putting the model together and growing. I’m proud of the way the organization has evolved, just like the fire service has evolved. We have a very strong board; we just developed a strategic plan that we are committed to. We’re not just telling others what to do, but we’re doing things ourselves, such as a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion within our board.
I’d also say we have a tremendous commitment to innovation, and that’s become a big focus for us.
CPSE Corner What do you say to your peers when they ask you about accreditation?
Pomeranz We are all seeking professionalism throughout our organizations, it is critical, and we are committed to serving our communities and accreditation helps with this. It is also vital internally where we are looking to the safety of our fire personnel. It is so important to have standards and policies that are up to date from a professional perspective, this is extraordinarily important.
It also brings a new level of confidence in our agencies when we are communicating with the public. Not only do the employees have high standards, but the public also knows that, as an organization, we are committed to meeting these high standards. It’s not an absolute guarantee, but for me as a city manager, it is very reassuring.
Fire departments are always based on teams, and accreditation helps to build an even stronger team.
It (accreditation) is a lot of effort, but it also brings great value to the organization and to the community. As a city manager, I consider accreditation one of the most important initiatives that I have supported within our organization.
My sole job is not to count the pennies to make sure we are as efficient as possible. That’s important, but we also must be concerned with the quality of service and the commitment to improvement.
In Cedar Rapids, when the fire department received its accreditation, the police department followed with theirs, but it didn’t end there. Parks and Recreation got theirs and the Public Works Department is now working on accreditation.
For me, as city manager, it’s reassuring to know that as we go through lots of different challenges as a city and a community, that we have this well-trained, committed, credentialed workforces that has received the very best of training and has the right policies for the needs of our department.
CPSE Corner How do you go about selling accreditation to others in your city, such as the mayor or city council? How do you get them to see the light?
Pomeranz In our community (Cedar Rapids) we have a strategic plan as well, and we are committed in our community to certain values, and one of those is continuous improvement within our own organization. This fits right into what we’re trying to do as a city, it’s part of what I’ve called the DNA of our community, to desire to improve and meet the highest standards, not just in the fire area but completely and absolutely throughout our organization. And this is one way we can do that.
The city council and our mayor have embraced accreditation and they have, I guess, really bought into the story that has been told by our fire chief, by our firefighters, and by myself, that it is a way to do an even better job, more effective job for our citizens.
As city manager, I have the ability to get up every morning, provide the leadership and the day-to-day work that’s necessary to be an effective city manager. But I also know that we have these high standards that our departments are following, are part of, are committed to from the individual perspective as well as the departmental perspective. I can’t see being a city manager without this commitment to the highest of standards.
CPSE Corner Is there some tangible return on investment that you see from having an accredited agency?
Pomeranz Can I boil it down to dollars and cents and say, well, the city of Cedar Rapids saved a million dollars a year because we’re accredited? I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think the value is far greater in my mind a financial saving. I think it’s having the most professional department that follows the highest of standards that the employees of the department have bought into along with the leadership of the department and the city overall. And so it results in a better and stronger organization.
And that’s what gives me a lot of confidence in the model. If you are only looking at saving dollars, there’s probably many, many ways that organizations can cut back and save dollars, but this is truly, in my mind, about being more effective, about being more efficient, but most importantly, having a department that is committed to the highest of standards, and that’s very reassuring for me as a city manager. And I know that’s the case for our mayor and city council and for our community.
If your whole perspective is “will this save us money,” it’s far greater than that. I think the potential for that is absolutely there, but it’s much more important than that to look at the effectiveness, efficiency, training, professionalism, and improvement of a department.
CPSE Corner We’ve been talking about how accreditation has evolved over the time you have been involved, how about CPSE itself?
Pomeranz The board leadership started 25 years ago with some very committed, very bright, forward-thinking fire chiefs who put that first accreditation idea together and it has evolved into what we see today. Our board is extremely committed, and one of the things that I have tried to encourage within the board is coming together and developing a team within the board.
We have a couple of board vacancies right now and we’re in process of interviewing for these positions. We’ve opened that up to the organizations, we don’t want to be a closed society and we’ve received a lot of interest, which has been very gratifying.
The other thing I wanted to just express is my support for the excellent staff at CPSE. Preet Bassi and her team are very committed to this organization, to the process that we all know and are committed to. They work hard, but they also have great ideas and a great level of commitment to the future of CPSE. So, I feel good about that.
So as the first city manager who was president of CPSE, I feel that this is a great time as we have this phenomenal staff, phenomenal board, and great participation from those we serve. It’s a great time for me to move on from this volunteer opportunity to other projects. I feel really good about the time I’ve been involved and the different roles I’ve had. So, for those that are reading this, thank you for allowing me the honor in my professional lifetime to be president of CPSE for two years.