A conversation with Ted Soltis, Kremmling town manager
December 4, 2007
A strong belief that government should serve the community is what motivates Ted Soltis, Kremmling’s new town manager.
Prior to coming to Kremmling, Soltis had a varied career in both business and public management as well as education. Before taking over as town manager, he spent five years in China as a college instructor. He became the town manager on July 26.
What is your personal background and why did you pick a mountain community like Kremmling?
“I grew up in Connecticut, but fell in love with the mountains out here in the West when I was in the Air Force. I was an avionics technician stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. When I finished my tour with the Air Force, I wanted to stay in the West so decided to choose a college out West. I ended up choosing Montana State University in Bozeman, where I majored in political science. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I worked as a manager in the hospitality industry, and then I received my master’s degree in public administration at the University of Montana in Missoula.
“And, my wife Susan grew up in a ranching family in Montana, very similar in size to Kremmling.
“When we were working in China and we decided we wanted to come home, we started looking on the Internet for job openings and Kremmling caught our eye. I’d worked in Georgetown before, and we wanted to go back to a state we knew and where we already had friends.
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“So, I and my family are very much at home in a community like Kremmling here in the mountains. My wife and our daughter Anna, 14, and sons Benjamin, 9, and Caleb, 6, have already made great friends here. Our kids say they want to live here forever.”
Why did you select government service as a career?
“My goal was always to get into government, but I wanted to get some management experience first. After I got my bachelor’s degree, I got involved in the hospitality industry eventually became a district manager, managing seven motels, in Virginia and North Carolina. One of the main things I learned from working in the private sector was the importance of customer service.
“Then I went back to school for my master’s degree. About the time I graduated, our first daughter was born and I was offered a job back in motel management in Georgetown. I wanted to take part in town government, so I volunteered for its Parks and Recreation Department, and eventually became a part-time and then later, full-time town manager. We lived in Georgetown for five years.”
Why did you go to China and what did you experience there?
“My wife and I worked as English instructors at the Hunan Taxation College, in Changsha, Hunan, for five years. That was a small college in south-central China.
We both taught oral English, and I also taught speech and debate, business English and more. We taught a variety of classes and lectures, such as American culture, American Education, American Holidays, American Religion and American History. After five years, our tax college closed, so we worked one year at a new international school in Changsha.
Students there ranged in age from about 6 to 15. The students there came from the United States, South Korea and China.
“We went for a variety of reasons, primarily to be ambassadors on various levels. We wanted to be part of improving relations between our countries.
“Once we got there, one of our goals was to give our Chinese students a different perspective on Americans than what they’d been seeing in TV and the movies. The perception of most Chinese is that all of the United States is just like in the Hollywood movies, that it’s a very violent place with people shooting at each other all the time and that we have a very promiscuous society.
“They were really surprised to learn from our family how much we Americans care about the family, the future and our communities. It was a real education for them that we had similar family values and that we really cared about our children’s futures.
“It was rewarding to hear students say, ‘I’ll have to rethink what I think about Americans since knowing you.’ We really miss our students and keep in touch with some of them by e-mail.”
What other big differences did you experience in China?
“What was quite different were the Chinese college students we worked with compared to American college students. The majority were from the countryside and while at college all classmates would stay together in one class until they graduated.
Few of our country-side students had any experience with sex, drugs or the bigger world and were very naive. This may be different than with kids raised in the cities.
“When they graduated and went to the big city, it was a huge shock for them. We tried to prepare them with debates, practice job interviews, and other information to help prepare them for the real world.”
What has your time in China as well as your other past work done to prepare you to be the Kremmling town manager?
“Well, I’ve been called naïve because my reason for wanting to be involved in government in the first place was because I believe people of integrity should be involved in government. I believe in treating people fairly and honestly. I believed that if I treated people fairly and honestly, they would treat me the same way. That doesn’t always happen.
“After a while, I just found I’d lost my spark for public management, but still wanted to be involved in helping my country on some level.
“And, that’s where going to China came in. Our time in China was really rewarding. I really enjoyed teaching and loved many of our students who loved us as well. But, living in China for all those years was also very eye-opening in many ways and it made me appreciate America even more than I had when I left it.
“During the cultural revolution, China tried to wipe out religion, and currently there is a void there with no real sense of right and wrong.
“Now, with their “market economy,” the goal is to look out for yourself and to do whatever it takes to get ahead. There is a lot of corruption and bribery in Chinese government and business. And, I get tired of people saying, ‘It sounds just like here.’ It’s nothing like here, at least, not yet.
“After experiencing that, my spark for government returned and I wanted to again get involved and help make a difference in my own country in whatever way I can. I believe that as difficult as public decisions can be here, it is possible to have a good, well-run government here and make sure the public’s dollars are used wisely and effectively.
“Kremmling is a working man’s community and any tax money that is spent has to be used as efficiently as possible. I see the goal of government as improving our community by pooling resources. And from my experience working in the private sector, I’m bringing to my job as the town manager the idea of customer service.
“There are a frustrating number of rules and regulations in government and I understand people’s frustrations. But, I do my best, and encourage the town’s employees to do their best, to be as helpful as possible.”