Cal-ICMA Scholarship Winners: In Their Own Words

Four recipients of scholarship support from Cal-ICMA share their experiences at the West Coast EPLI and Regional Summit in Burlingame

ARTICLE | Apr 20, 2017
Cal-ICMA Scholarship Recipients, left to right: Lisa T. Tulee, Senior Executive Analyst, City of San Jose, City Manager’s Office; Lori Karaguezian, Principal Staff Analyst, Orange County Sanitation District, Fountain Valley, California; Laura Douglass, Pa

Laura Douglass, Parks & Recreation Business Manager, City of Fairfield

What we do as public service professionals is a direct reflection of who we are as people. The importance of understanding and embracing this identity was embodied at the ICMA Emerging Professionals Leadership Institute (EPLI) and West Coast Regional Summit on March 22 – 24th, 2017 in beautiful Burlingame, California. I was blown away by the lessons I learned, the stories I heard, and the individuals I met who serve in so many different roles in the public sector. As a young, introverted analyst with municipal management aspirations, I felt completely out of my element and incredibly intimidated when I first entered the EPLI.  Within the first day, I felt right at home – and by the end of the Summit, I was recharged, rejuvenated, invigorated, and excited to take my discoveries and experiences to better serve the City of Fairfield.

Once you’ve spent a few minutes with ICMA’s Director of Leadership Development, Felicia Logan, it’s impossible not to feel welcomed and engaged. On the first day of the EPLI, Felicia led our group of “emerging professionals” to explore our strengths through Marcus Buckingham’s StandOut 2.0. It challenged me to rethink how I see myself, and encouraged me to build upon my strengths as a Connector-Creator and find ways to put that identity into action.

The following morning, EPLI attendees were privileged to hear from ICMA President and City Manager of Fort Lauderdale, Lee Feldman. I hung on Mr. Feldman’s every word, feeling completely swept up in a world where residents are valued as “neighbors” and city employees as “community builders.” I appreciated his candor in sharing the successes and challenges he has faced in his career, and I was so impressed with his vision to reframe the relationship between government and the people it serves.

Later that day, stories of communities that have faced interruption, division, and unthinkable tragedies moved a room of city and county managers (and staff) to tears. Connie Jackson - City of San Bruno, Kurt Wilson - City of Stockton, and Gregory Devereaux - County of San Bernardino brought raw honesty, compassionate hearts, and triumphant, courageous spirits as they shared their experiences and lessons learned. It was both gut-wrenching and inspiring, and made me proud to be part of this profession. At one point in her story, Ms. Jackson stated, “This is why we do what we do.” This resonated with me as a call to action - to be the committed, trustworthy, level-headed person who propels an organization to keep moving forward, whether in a time of crisis or a moment of celebration. Those who choose to lead in local government cannot always control or predict the situations in which they will be called to serve. However, they can control their responses, trust their instincts, and be the leaders communities need, no matter the obstacles ahead or how insurmountable they may seem.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate in the EPLI and West Coast Regional Summit.  The experience profoundly affected me (personally), and reaffirmed my faith in and my commitment to my chosen career path (professionally). I look forward to increasing my involvement with ICMA and sharing my experiences with others. See you in San Antonio! 

Lori Karaguezian, Principal Staff Analyst, Orange County Sanitation District, Fountain Valley, California

I am grateful to Cal-ICMA for granting me a scholarship and the opportunity to attend the 2017 Emerging Professionals Leadership Institute (EPLI) and ICMA West Coast Regional Summit (WCRS) where I got to meet and interact with so many great people. I benefitted immensely from every workshop, session, conversation, and discussion that I took part in and was continuously surprised by how I could tie everything back to my past or present work experiences.

As part of my current position, I serve as my agency’s Leadership Development Program Coordinator and work with a cross section of employees from all levels of the organization to bring in training programs that appeal to the needs of our diverse workforce. One of the teams I oversee is the “Diversity in Leadership” team which has continuously found that we are always among private sector companies when we attend local roundtables on the topic of “Diversity and Inclusion”. It was refreshing to attend the Special Workshop titled “Equity & Inclusivity in the Workplace and Our Communities” and hear our industry leaders talking about diversity and inclusivity through the lens of the public sector. The panelists also touched upon issues of inclusivity in providing affordable housing in our cities and counties which I enjoyed since I have profound passion for and background in that field.

The EPLI session with ICMA President Lee Feldman gave us a chance to learn about his leadership philosophy and management style. I appreciated his viewpoint on performance measurement. It was directly relevant to an effort I’m leading at my agency to revisit how we do ours. He also shared tidbits about how closely he works with his Police Department, the programs they’ve started, and the progress they’ve made. This information also sparked my interest because although I’ve worked for two beach cities it was a much-needed reminder that no two beach cities are alike and Cities must remain creative to find solutions that work because there is no blanket solution that can be applied across the board. 

The most moving part of attending the EPLI and ICMA WCRS was the session about “Leadership Strategies to Move Communities from Disruption to Connection and Renewal”. Witnessing the emotional accounts of the panelists about the “disruption” they experienced was a sobering testament to the passion and strength required to lead people through difficult situations. I left that session and the entire 3-day experience with a recharged pride for the work that we do on a daily basis.

Leslie Shim, MPA Candidate, USC Sol Price School of Public Policy

I must start off by thanking Ed Shikada because he sent me the scholarship opportunity that allowed me to attend. As a MPA candidate, I was excited to learn about city management and meet professionals in the field.

The Conference began with a workshop on StandOut2.0 where we explored our individual strengths and how they can contribute to our organizations. This exercise focused on what we do well and capitalize off those skills. We discussed the ability to flex these comparative advantages; I was delightfully surprised by the safe environment created by the facilitators and the transparency of the attendees. My assessment put me into the Roles of Teacher and Provider: “Your gift is to create a safe place for people to learn, because they know that you will not let them fall.”

We then transitioned to a meaningful panel on Equity & Inclusion in Government. Again, I was impressed to find that diversity is followed and practiced in ICMA as an organization and through its members. The next forum was on the relevant and timely topic of leading communities in times of disruption. We examined how to best serve during civic, natural, political, and social tragedies. As a Southern California native, what impacted me most was Greg Devereaux’s account of the terrorist attack on the San Bernardino county Employees and how he moved forward on a personal and professional level since the event.

Finally, the Conference concluded with a discussion on Tenet 4 which is “Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of the people.” The thought on the mind of everyone’s mind was, how do we move forward in protecting our communities given the recent changes in the federal immigration policy? Everyone was frustrated and passionate about this particular subject. Though no one had an answer, I walked away from the Conference feeling hopeful to see that administrators were concerned about their communities.

Interacting with passionate and talented public administration professionals has strongly motivated me to pursue city/county management. Thank you Cal-ICMA for the incredible experience! I look forward to becoming involved in future ICMA events.

Lisa T. Tulee, Senior Executive Analyst, City of San Jose, City Manager’s Office

Disruption Is Never Expected, But Can Lead to Learning

How could a late-night emergency room visit reinforce so much of what I learned at the 2017 Emerging Professionals Leadership Institute/West Coast Summit? Heaven knows, I had several hours to think about it (as I waited with my Mom), and I’d love to share how my experience in the ER became enhanced learning, following the great experiences and learning moments I had at the conference. These are directly transferable to my job in the City Manager’s Office, whether I encounter large or small disruptions or in the future.   

Personal Insight and Insight Through Others Provide a New Lens and Perspective

With the conference providing me with both personal insight (as part of the EPLI program StandOut 2.0—Building a Culture of Strength Within the Organization), and gaining insight through others’ experiences (with Cal-ICMA West Coast Summit session on Leadership Challenge: Moving the Community Through Disruption to Connection and Renewal), I watched the ER staff through a new lens. You see, the night I was there, the hospital moved from ‘business as usual’, to declaring a hospital-wide internal disaster, and this included activating the Emergency Command Center. The entire hospital network system backbone, including cardiac equipment, paging system, and phones, as well as CT and MRI machines tied to the one network, had gone down, and stayed down for several hours. Paramedic and helicopter medivac traffic was diverted to other hospitals, and paramedics were standing by to transport walk-in patients needing those services to other hospitals.

Disruption in Action

The whole hospital organization was smack in the middle of a disruption with potential life and death consequences, and there was no choice but to navigate through and continue to serve all who needed care and treatment. I was reminded of Connie Jackson’s comments and emotions she related the point at which she saw the mushroom cloud of smoke outside her window following the natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, and how she wondered if the cloud was in San Bruno and how she could handle the situation in a moment of soul searching, early in the disaster timeline, when the extent of damage was not yet known.

The reaction in the ER the night of my visit was similar, as the sounds in the ER got eerily quiet with machines shutting down and staff stopping in their tracks in denial, and then as they wondered how they would order drugs, do diagnostics, or call specialists without computers, paging system, or phones.  As with the San Bruno explosion, the mass shooting in San Bernardino County, and negative notoriety in Stockton, strong leadership stepped forward swiftly to direct and guide those impacted through this disruption. Everything was done in a deliberate manner, taking each moment by moment, and managers making the best decisions possible, given a difficult situation.

Instinct and experience, as well many committed staff pulling together to and bring their best efforts and strengths forward, provided what was necessary to manage through disruption. These were things I gleaned from the stories I heard at the Cal-ICMA panel session, which also included Kurt Wilson who helped Stockton navigate through bankruptcy and negative notoriety to emerge stronger than before, and Greg Devereaux, who was the CEO in San Bernardino County during a mass shooting.

Communication and Relationship Building are the Keys to Getting through Disruption

I recall that Mr. Devereaux noted during the panel session that communication is more important during a disruptive event than at any other time, and that strong relationships and trust built over time, bridge gaps during a disruptive event. I witnessed this same thing at play in the hospital during their event, as communication was challenging since everything was charted on a clipboard with pens and paper. At the same time, I also realized that the only way that the staff could successfully process and treat patients was to help each other, depending on staff strengths—and fortunately for us and other patients, this approach worked. Experience came into play too, as one nurse who also works on an ambulance with minimal resources, guided others on how to get by without a full complement of tools at hand.

Powerful Experience Sharing Builds a Powerful Professional Reference Point

As what often happens for the public-sector manager with the jurisdiction’s residents, I doubt many patients realized that night, how hard staff worked, and how many staff stayed many hours after their shift ended to continue to care for their patients.  Most patients didn’t know the nurse managers were making critical decision after decision on how to handle each new challenge that presented itself, and yet they benefitted from the expertise applied to the situation. At the West Coast Summit, I synthesized the panelists’ experiences. I was impressed with level of candidness and the rawness of their sobering experiences, as well as their invaluable personal leadership viewpoints on their experiences. This was what made this session powerful, and it was so powerful that I carried their experiences with me that night at the hospital, and which I will personally use as a professional reference point always. In the future, rather than watch a disruptive event from the sidelines, as I did in ER that night, I may find myself in the middle of a disruptive event and will be forever grateful they were willing to relive their stories, so that audience could glean valuable experience through them.

I am honored to be a 2017 EPLI scholarship winner and am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to participate in both EPLI/Cal ICMA events and valuable networking.  Being new to working in the City Manager’s Office, this has given both new personal insight and the perspectives of others who were faced with challenges at a level most of us fortunately will not encounter. Thank you for this support as I strive to build my management skills and professional reference points.