Starting with this issue, we are introducing a new Q&A Feature that will profile a VACo member each month. Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas is the first. Get to know John and watch this space for more profiles.
Q1. You have been serving on the state Commission on Employee Retirement Security and Pension Reform. One of the topics discussed has been the issue of compensation for state employees and the need to recruit millennials and other younger staff to succeed employees who are ready to retire. What drew you to working in local government?
JV: I had a professor in college who talked me out of going to law school and he sent me to work an internship at the City of Richmond. This was the late 1980’s. After that internship, I was hooked on serving in the public realm.
Q2. What trends have you seen in the local workforce during your time in local government?
JV: In my opinion, the local government workforce is more engaging, less bureaucratic and more driven to serve than at any other time in my public service career. This workforce is incredibly dynamic and we now have four generations of employees serving together. Those generational perspectives offer some incredible opportunities for quality and efficiency gains.
Q3. What strategies do you think localities can use to encourage young workers to see public service, especially at the local level, as a viable career option?
JV: I believe that younger workers are driven by a sense of purpose that we have an obligation to fuel. I made a commitment to a gentleman who gave me my first break in local government many years ago to “pay it forward” by doing for many what he did for me. To this end, since becoming county manager in Henrico, the county has hired over 250 student interns and now a good number actually work for the county. In some areas of the organization, we are actually growing our own workforce.
Q4. You are a product of Henrico County Public Schools and a graduate of JR Tucker High School. You know Henrico County so intimately. How does that knowledge serve you as County Manager? What is it like to lead your home county?
JV: It’s incredibly humbling. I love my home, Henrico, and have given the county my all. I will do that until I can give no more.
Along the way, I have had some incredible memories. One that stands out involves my mother calling me in the office after a friend called her to let her know of an occurrence within the county. The conversation involved my mother scolding me and saying, “now Johnny (in Greek it’s Yianni) – you had better fix that problem because I don’t want any more calls from my friends.” Our Board of Supervisors has very high expectations. In this county, I must meet their expectations as well as those of mama V.
Q5. You earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but you joined Henrico County as a budget analyst. How did you get into the finance side of local government?
JV: Early in my career, I realized that the one place where you could understand the entire organization was within the budget office of a locality. The first budget I worked on was for Gaston County, North Carolina and through a number of years, I realized that I have total clarity in the financial realm.
But at the end of the day – everything fiscal must be simple. What I excelled at – I believe – was explaining the underlying financial picture, or developing financial plans that made sense to the average person.
Q6. What advice would you give to new county administrators?
JV: Trust your people. Follow your heart. Stay away from the gray.
Q7. What are some challenges facing your community in the next ten years?
JV: Just like many communities, Henrico is aging and becoming more diverse. This creates some incredible opportunities for outreach and citizen engagement that we will meet. Maintaining our public infrastructure will continue to be difficult as the state divests more and more of its responsibilities to local governments. With sound fiscal planning, and conservative budgeting, those challenges will also be met. Finally, development and redevelopment of our community requires a business friendly approach that our workforce must project every time there is an interaction with a citizen. We will continue to meet this challenge by hiring the best of the best to work for our county.
Ultimately, the challenge for all of us in local government is working to create that sense of place, community – that the resident and business can feel proud to call home. It’s not complicated – it just takes much hard, good, consistent work.
Q8. You’ve been a strong partner with VACo over the years. What advice would you give other county leaders on becoming involved in our state association?
JV: VACo has offered me the opportunity to make some lifelong friendships. These friendships have been incredibly helpful, especially so during the annual legislative session.
Q9. Tell us a little bit about your family and your hobbies.
JV: I am married to a wonderful lady that I met in the seventh grade. That’s a very long story… We have three great kids, two of whom are college juniors and the baby is a six foot high school junior. The most enjoyment that I have in life is spending time with my family.
Q10. Your parents immigrated from Greece to the United States when you were an infant. How much does Greek culture continue to be part of your life?
JV: Greek culture will always be a part of my life, but the greater impact of my experience is the work ethic my parents instilled in my brothers and me. My mom and dad worked very hard for many years to raise three boys and gave us opportunities that they themselves never had. I will never be able to thank them enough for what they did for us.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle