Spotlighting Careers in the Public Sector: Marketa Oliver

June 21, 2023|Stephanie Irvin

Meet the public sector talent that makes it all work

Public sector careers tend to take a backseat to their Private Sector counterparts, but not in this series. We’re aiming the spotlight on our public sector partners and the incredible impact they have on our communities and society. From emergency service and healthcare to education and finance, the span of careers in the public sector is diverse.

This week we’re excited to turn the spotlight on Marketa Oliver, City Administrator for the City of Bondurant, Iowa

A Bit About Marketa

Marketa Oliver has been the City Administrator for the City of Bondurant, Iowa since 2017. With over 30 years of city management experience, she is a wealth of knowledge. She got her start in local government during graduate school at Drake University with an internship in the City Administrator’s office in Windsor Heights, Iowa. She has worked in both smaller and larger organizations at every level of government, but her passion is in local government.

Marketa lived in Bondurant with her husband of 25+ years and has a daughter in graduate school at the School of International Service at American University. She enjoys traveling, playing games with friends, and exploring fine wines.

Career Story Interview

Q: Can you tell me what you do and how you found your way to where you are now?

A: I’m the City Administrator for the City of Bondurant, so that means I am in charge of the day-to-day operations for the municipal corporation. A private sector comparison would be that the council is the board of directors and I’m the CEO of the municipal corporation. The council will determine the vision for the community and it’s my responsibility to make it happen.

I actually discovered local government when I was in graduate school, and I started as an intern with the city of Windsor Heights, Iowa. After grad school I worked for the City of Yakima, Washington for 10 years. When I came back to Iowa, I was the City Administrator in Windsor Heights for about 12 and half years. And then I left for the City of Norwalk, also in the Des Moines metropolitan area. I was the City Manager there for about 4 and a half years. Now I’ve been the City Administrator here in Bondurant for 6 years.

I did take a little break from local government between Norwalk and Bondurant, where I worked for the State briefly, and learned it wasn’t for me. At the time I was feeling burnt out a little on city management and decided to try something different, but I quickly found that my love is really with local government.

Q: Was there anything that inspired you to take this career path?

A: Yes, I’ve always been drawn to public service and honestly, I always thought it would’ve been at the federal level. I’ve always been very interested in politics and always kept up on them. When most kids were watching Sesame Street, I was watching Walter Cronkite and the evening news. I was always very interested in that. I didn’t even really know local government was an option until graduate school and there was this internship open. All through my undergrad and graduate education, I tried to take every internship I could get my hands on to gain a variety of experience. So, I interned at all levels of government, and I really loved my time with local government in Windsor Heights.

Q: Tell me more about where you’re at now in Bondurant

A: The City of Bondurant is one of the fastest growing cities in the state of Iowa and the fastest growing city in Polk County. We have been doubling population census over census for the past several decades. And we are also quickly growing industrial and commercial activity as well. We’ve got a phenomenal team of staff and department heads that are making it all happen. I can’t even count the number of projects that I have a small team of six department heads who are managing literally dozens of municipal projects, planning, and all of that at the same time. And they’re all doing a great job because Bondurant is knocking it out of the park.

We are a full-service local government, so we provide water, wastewater, public works, emergency services, planning, administration, parks and recreation, and law enforcement through a contract. We have what’s called a mixed department for our fire department. So that means we have full-time people, but we augment full-time with our paid per call or what we refer to as our volunteer firefighters.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you as a City Administrator?

A: *laughs * So funny that you say that because when I looked over the interview questions beforehand, I said to myself, ‘Please let me know when you find out!’

I can have my own work plan, my own list of things I need to get done today, and that can be completely blown up by any number of issues that may arise. So there really is no typical day.

Q: What do you love most about your job in local government?

A: I love working on projects that we work on and seeing those projects come to reality. Driving around town and seeing a variety of things that I had a hand in facilitating is extremely gratifying. Particularly when it’s economic development projects that have generated jobs for people, that’s definitely rewarding. And then I also find the parks projects rewarding when I can drive by a park and see somebody who’s having a great time with their kids. We just opened a dog park here and people love it. It’s called Pawtoka based on a lake we have nearby named Lake Petocka.

Q: Do you have a favorite project that you’ve gotten to be a part of?

A: One of my favorite projects that I’ve ever worked on was the Windsor Heights Community and Events Center, which is this beautiful lodge-like facility in Windsor Heights signature park. It really put Windsor Heights on the map and became a destination for people. It’s so beautiful.

One really unique thing is that we had a local resident who, for generations, had collected bricks and had this valuable collection of really unique and interesting old bricks that he donated to the city. And we actually incorporated those into the facility in the columns and in the walls of the facility. He had bricks from all over, he had one from the White House, one from the Habsburg monarchy. It really added a level of architectural interest and that was a very interesting project to work on. I got to work on it from concept to concrete. In fact, when my daughter graduated high school, I chose to have her graduation party there because that project was like my second child. I wasn’t even working at Windsor Heights at the time.

It’s a very beautiful facility.

One other thing about this project, that’s more mundane, but also still very important is that we knew that there would be weddings here and so when we were working with the architect, we kept saying the restroom needs to be bigger. We need to have a place apart from the sinks where women can go to do their makeup and get ready. Of course, the architect has their own idea that everything needs to be symmetrical. He kept saying, “But if the women’s is bigger, the men’s will have to be smaller.” And we were like, “Yes, absolutely. That’s okay.”

And it worked out. One of the best things was the feedback we consistently received after the facility opened and we were having events. Our brides would say, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much for having this space where I can get ready. You can tell there were female influences in the design.”

One other project that I want to highlight that I loved working on, which is an economic development project, is the Amazon distribution center here in Bondurant. This is the first distribution center that Amazon built in the Midwest. And Bondurant landed the project, which is a game changer for our community.

We were able to do that because we had proactively been working through the certified site process. So basically, we were taking this 168 acres and getting it development ready because we recognized that this property is in a very strategic location, particularly for distribution. We are at the nexus of interstates that go border to border and coast to coast. We did the endangered species studies, the wetlands delineation, the whole nine yards, and it was good to go. We recognized that when someone comes to your community, they don’t want to build two years from now, once all the prep work is done. They want to build now.

And this is the statistic that always makes people sit up and pay attention, because many people think that government moves slowly, but between the time that we first met with the developer who was at the time working with a ‘large national user’ until they started moving dirt, this project was 47 days.

We were able to do that because of all the pre-work that we’d done proactively and because we have a visionary city council who was willing to invest in that site certification process. It was a really exciting, beautiful project. There are 3,000 people who work there now, which is fantastic. And I think Amazon had a good experience building here because the next year they came and built a sortation center across the street from it.

Q: What are some challenges you think the public sector is facing?

A: A challenge that government is facing, not necessarily just local government, is the lack of knowledge when it comes to government structure and the constant grind of complaints can be a little difficult.

We’re very blessed here in Bondurant because we have phenomenal elected officials, and the vast majority of people in our community are welcoming and kind and thoughtful. But there are occasionally people who will make really thoughtless remarks on social media that can really affect staff members and usually are remarks that are made out of a lack of knowledge about a situation or an issue. And I just feel like it would be helpful if people could do a little research or just ask questions before rushing to judgment or complaining.

It does become a grind. And we do find that this atmosphere has generated an environment in which we have fewer and fewer people even interested in going into public service. There’s a shortage in the city management profession. For example, I just saw an article the other day about the problem with so many school superintendents leaving, and teachers too. I feel like maybe as a society, we’ve forgotten how to communicate through conflict. It can be very discouraging for people who are hardworking and want to contribute to their communities.

Q: What is something you wish you’d known before you began your career in public administration?

A: I wish I would’ve found local government sooner and paid attention to local government a little sooner just because I feel like I would’ve been better prepared as I started my career if I had done that.

Q: How has your career evolved and where do you see it going?

A: I started as an intern and my first paid job was with the city of Yakima, Washington. I was in the City Manager’s office working on the management team. It’s a very large organization, so that gave me a really good opportunity to get experience in all different departments. That was very helpful and prepared me for becoming a city admin when I came back to Iowa and took the City Administrator position in Windsor Heights. I also worked with the city manager in Yakima who was well known for his budgeting skills. That was very helpful for me because I felt like that was such an important piece of municipal management. And at the time, I felt like I was not strong in those skills when I first started with Yakima.

I see myself continuing to contribute to local government until I retire.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who’s interested in city management?

A: I would definitely suggest they learn budgeting backwards and forwards, because that’s so important. It’s such a critical piece. And if you’re able to budget well and you’re able to understand municipal finance then you’ll be well prepared. It’s so important to know where all the money is and things like that. It’s the foundation of everything you do.

Q: Are there any tools or resources you use to develop your professional skills?

A: Yes – I’m a member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and I attend their annual conferences. I’m also part of the Iowa Association of City/County Management which is so helpful. They have a grapevine, that is a list of all the managers in the state. And so if I need a template for a policy, help with a resolution, or if I have a question about something, I can just throw it out there and have multiple experts from all over the state who contribute and I can learn from.

The City Management Association is very strong here in Iowa and we have some really talented managers who help mentor each other and support each other. That has been very very helpful. I’ve also attended GFOA training, which is the Government Finance Officer training.

Another thing I recommend to people is to be sharp on their HR skills because when I first started in Windsor Heights, we had some challenging HR issues. And so, I hold my credential, my senior professional and human resources credential. And so, I do a lot of HR training, which is important, particularly for a manager of a smaller community who has to wear many different hats.

Rapid Fire Questions for Fun

Q: Is there a trend you wish would make a comeback?

A: I’d say 80’s music, but that’s never left for me!

Q: What’s a fun fact people don’t know about you?

A: I speak German and I played the lead role in a theater production in Vienna during my junior year of college.

Q: If you could do another job for a day within your city, what would it be?

A: This one is outside the scope of the public sector, but I would bake pies or brew beer because we have a craft brewery here!

If you’d like to learn more about Marketa and her job as a City Administrator, check out her LinkedIn profile or you can reach her at

More on careers in the public sector:
Jason Silva: Town Administrator for the Town of Dunstable, MA
Patrick Dello Russo: CFO for the City of Taunton, MA
Kate Fitzpatrick: Town Manager for the Town of Needham, MA
Leon A. Gaumond: Town Manager for the Town of Weston, MA

Categories: Community