Meet the Department Directors

J. Benjamin Champ, City Manager

Champ served as the City's Community Development Director from 2008 to April 2017. In 2014, the role of Assistant City Manager was added to his duties.  

Prior to working for the City of Pleasant Hill, he served as the Senior Planner for the City of Fort Dodge. 

Champ holds a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from Iowa State University and a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Iowa. He is also a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute. 

Activities and Service:
In 2007, Champ passed the exam to become a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He has been a board member of the American Planning Association’s 500 member Iowa Chapter since 2008 in many roles including Secretary, Vice-President, and currently serving a second elected term as President. In 2013, Champ obtained certification as an Economic Development Finance Professional through the National Development Council and is a member of the International Economic Development Council and the Professional Developers of Iowa. Champ is also an active supporter of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s Leadership Iowa Program as a graduate, past co-chair, current board member and co-chair of the alumni association. 

Champ has served on a number of local boards and commissions including the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority, Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority, and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Association where he is a past Chair of the Technical Advisory Committee and currently serves as Chair of the Planning Sub-Committee and is also an appointed member of the Tomorrow Plan Implementation Committee. In 2016, he was elected Chair of the Four-Mile Creek Watershed Management Authority and also acts as Vice-Chair of the Council of Watershed Management Authorities for the metropolitan area.

Ben Champ

Madeline Sturms, Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director

Madeline Sturms has worked for the City of Pleasant Hill since 2013. Initially hired as Associate Planner/Stormwater Coordinator, she was promoted to Senior Planner in 2015 and Community Development Director since 2017. She was promoted to Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director in 2022.

Prior to working for the City of Pleasant Hill, Sturms worked as a Regional Planner for the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission (SEIRPC) in Burlington, Iowa.


Sturms received a Bachelor of Science in Community and Regional Planning from Iowa State University and a Master of Public Administration from Drake University. She is also a graduate of the Certified Public Manager (CPM) program from Drake University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) from the American Planning Association. 

 Activities and Service: 

  • American Planning Association Member
  • American Planning Association Iowa Chapter; President
    • Chapter Development Program Area Former Chair 
    • Conference Planning Committee; Member and Former Chair
    • Communications Committee Member
  • Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization

    • Technical Advisory Committee Member
    • Planning Subcommittee Member
    • Bicycle-Pedestrian Round Table Member
  • Fourmile Creek Watershed Management Authority Alternate Member 
  • International City/County Management Association Member
  • International Economic Development Council Member
  • Iowa Food Cooperative Pleasant Hill Satellite Site Volunteer Manager
  • Iowa State University Department of Community and Regional Planning Professional Mentor Program; Mentor
  • Mud, Camp, Spring Creek Watershed Management Authority Member

Al Pizzano, Police Chief

Al Pizzano has served as the City’s Police Chief since 2015. Prior to his appointment as Chief, Al served as the Executive Vice President for Homefront Protective Group, specializing in law enforcement training and consulting. 

Prior to his move to Iowa, Pizzano served with the New York City Police Department for 28 years. He retired October 2015, from the department’s Elite Emergency Service Unit (ESU) as the commander of ESU Truck 5 in Staten Island, Truck 6 in Brooklyn, and all ESU Police Canines. During his service as Commanding Officer of Detective Zone 18, he directed detective operations in the Borough of Queens. He created and initiated strategic, operational and financial plans that improved case management, reduced labor costs, maximized personnel usage and increased the case clearance rate. Pizzano honed his investigative skills managing 13,000 criminal cases annually, which included 100 murder cases. He had a 96 percent arrest rate for homicides, 62 percent for other crimes, cutting crime 10 percent over a three-year period.

While Commanding Officer of the 103 Impact Zone, he strengthened relationships between the police department, businesses, political leaders and the community by addressing and resolving their concerns. Pizzano has continued these efforts in Pleasant Hill by creating community programs, which open lines of communication with residents and foster police legitimacy. Cultivating partnerships between police, other service agencies and residents is important to him, while proactively and impartially imposing criminal and traffic laws. During his leadership, staff participation is encouraged to develop departmental goals, while sharing ideas that shape management practices and deliver high performance.

Pizzano holds a BS in Criminal Justice Administration and Planning from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, an MBA in Management and Leadership from Liberty University. He is also a graduate of the NYPD’s Specialized Training School. 

As a former member of the NYPD, he received training in:
  • Command & Advanced Leadership  
  • Criminal & Internal Investigation
  • Hostage Negotiation 
  • Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) 
  • National Incident Management
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) 
Activities and Service:
  • National Tactical Officers Association Member

Jamie Xayavong, Fire Chief

Jamie Xayavong was named Fire Chief for the City of Pleasant Hill in 2019. Xayavong brings 13 years of experience with the Pleasant Hill Fire Department, serving as a Lieutenant and then a Captain. For the past year, she has filled the role of Interim Acting Fire Chief while the City performed a national search for the hiring of this position. Xayavong has exemplified the leadership, professionalism, and technical knowledge to excel as the Fire Chief. Her passion for public service is evident as she held a career with the Polk County Sherriff’s Office for 17 years during her time with the Pleasant Hill Fire Department.

Jamie Xayavong

Dena Spooner, City Clerk/Finance Director 

Dena Spooner has been the City Clerk/Finance Director for the City of Pleasant Hill since 2014.  

Prior to joining the City of Pleasant Hill, Spooner served as a Public Accountant for RSM McGladrey, Controller for County Rescue Services in Wisconsin, and Finance Director for Iowa Chiropractic Society.

Spooner holds a BS in Finance from Iowa State University and a CPA license in the State of Iowa. 

Activities and Service:
  • Iowa Society of Certified Public Accountants Member
  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Member 


Russ Paul, Public Works Director

Russ Paul has been the Director of Public Works since 2022. 

Paul began his career with the City in 2007 as a seasonal employee and became the City of Pleasant Hill’s first storm water coordinator while also serving as an equipment operator. He later joined the City of Des Moines’ Public Works Department before returning to Pleasant Hill in 2015 as the Assistant Public Works Director. Paul holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from the University of Iowa along with a Graduate Certificate of Public Management (CPM) form Iowa State University.

Activities and Service:

  • Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority Technical committee
  • Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission Member 

Russ Paul

John Lerdal, Library Director

John Lerdal began serving at the City's Library Director in 1991. 

Prior to joining the City, Lerdal was a housekeeping manager at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. 

Lerdal holds a BS in English and a MLS from University of Iowa. 

Activities and Service:
  • Pleasant Hill Lions Club Member; Past President 
  • Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce; Past President and Board Member
  • Iowa Library Association; Past Executive Board Member and Treasurer 
  • Polk County Library Association; Past President