Q & A / Jun/Jly 2012
She grew up in Los Angeles, on the west side. She credits her mother, who survived breast cancer for 25 years, as the inspiration for much of what she has accomplished personally and professionally. Breaking barriers throughout her life, she is the first woman to be the City Manager of San Luis Obispo where she oversees all 350 city employees. She has served as a federal special agent but found local government to be her calling. Today, she is two-and-a-half years into the job. We catch up with her one afternoon to get to know her a little better…
What was childhood like for you?
It was a really active, athletic childhood. I played tennis, skied, played baseball. I was the first girl at Rancho Park to play in the Little League there. They actually wouldn’t let me play at the park that was closest to my house because they wouldn’t consider allowing a girl. But, this other park that was a little further away decided to make an exception. So, my parents allowed me to do it, and I signed up. The coach lived across the street from us. And when he put me in the lineup, I hit a triple and there was a big celebration on our block that day. If I had better wheels, it would have been a home run.
How’d you go from triples in Little League to city management?
I actually knew in junior high school that this was my passion, to serve. I was involved in student government the whole time I was in school, including in college, so it was in my blood. It was in my soul. I describe my profession as a calling, so it’s always been part of what I love to do. I went off to school at UC Davis for a Public Service degree and to Syracuse University for my Masters in Public Administration. From there, I spent nine years in the Federal Government rotating through various agencies. I started off in the Treasury Department and kind of fell in love with doing law enforcement work. I decided I wanted to become more involved, so I went to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center to become a certified special agent. And, so I was a “T-woman.”
Just what is a “T-woman” exactly?
Treasury Woman. The Treasury Department has thirteen different bureaus, the IRS, which we all know, but there are many others. I worked for the Inspector General’s Office doing criminal investigations in the non-law enforcement bureaus for any crime that was committed. We were looking for fraud, waste, and abuse within the government as a result of criminal activity. One of the biggest cases I had was when there was a purchasing agent who was buying computers for the agency, taking possession of them, and then selling them to pawn shops.
But you left federal government?
I felt like I wasn’t making very much of a difference. Finding things that were going to change the system were just not happening. So, while I was doing a lot of good work - holding people accountable for stealing from the government - I wasn’t really changing people’s lives.
I bet the guy who pawned those computers would beg to differ!
[laughter] Good point. His life definitely changed. But, seriously, I started to really think about it, and I came to the conclusion that I could make a much bigger impact in local government. Whether it’s big stuff like having open space and planning for our land use or it’s the little stuff like getting the garbage picked up or filling the pothole, every day people are impacted by local government.
Where do you get your drive?
The person who I have been most empowered by was my mom. And I have had some challenges. I happen to be dyslexic. From an early age they thought it may have been some other problem that they couldn’t identify. They couldn’t figure out why I don’t do standardized tests very well. My mom had a commitment to empowering me and encouraging me to be the best that I could be and to overcome and take me to tutors. I always felt like I was successful in her presence and that I could do anything I wanted to do. And, so I felt very empowered by that and very loved and cared for and encouraged. It has meant that I have had a high level of persistence. For me, it’s always been about, head down, ears pinned back dedication to doing what needs to get done.
How do you balance your busy schedule with your personal life?
My husband, Mark, is the head of a non-profit in LA that provides job training and job opportunities to people in poverty and who are homeless. Most of the time, he’s able to make it up here around 6 or 7 o’clock on a Friday night. He has actually gone off and gotten his pilot’s license and most of the time he’s able to fly back on Monday mornings, so that has given us more time together on the weekends.
What brought you to San Luis?
Three years ago when I was the Assistant City Manager in Beverly Hills, I decided to go on an Outward Bound trip. It was eight days in the woods of North Carolina. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next in my career and my private life. And, one of the things I had identified was that I wanted to be a city manager again. I had been a city manager for four-and-a-half years in Malibu, the longest tenured city manager there, before I went to Beverly Hills to work for a full-serviced city. I felt that I could contribute something and be of service to a community. And what’s beautiful about the San Luis Obispo community is that the expectations are high. I feel that the people here really want the best from us, and I feel that I can contribute to that. So, from a career perspective this is pretty much nirvana.