Why local government?
I've always had an interest in local government in general, so a career in local government was really an opportunity to turn my interest in government into practice. As a high school student, I was involved in a “youth in local government” club, which allowed me to serve on the city commission and see it in action. Also my dad was a civil engineer, and that certainly influenced my career path. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in the city of Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, and went to school there for public administration.
So you grew up in the community where you are now interim city manager? What’s changed since you grew up there?
I grew up in Lawrence, but left for 14 years, and the city was a lot different when I came back. My knowledge of the city’s history has been very helpful to me in my current position. It was beneficial to experience other communities and then to be able to come back. It doesn’t happen very frequently in the profession that you get to work in your hometown, so my situation is pretty unique.
No matter where I work, I would be committed to the community, although it does give me a special connection to the people that I serve now in Lawrence, because many of them are people that I have known or my family has known for many, many years.
How has your career progressed?
My career has really progressed in a very traditional way, sort of in the old traditional way. I served as an intern in Lenexa, Kansas, and in a full-time internship for two years in Ottawa, Kansas. After that, I was able to get my first assistant to the city manager job in Manhattan, Kansas, and was promoted there to assistant city manager and ultimately deputy city manager. Then I had the opportunity to go back to Lawrence as an assistant city manager. Lawrence is a larger community, almost double the size of Manhattan. I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay in my home state around the area that I love and be able to serve those communities.
You’re also involved with your state association?
I am the past president of the Kansas Association of City/County Management (KACM) and I'm honored to be able to serve in that capacity since I have spent my entire career in Kansas. KACM has been very helpful to me in making connections beyond the managers I’ve known from my own KU network—including people who have worked in other states and who are now working in Kansas.
You have a good base in Kansas, so why belong to ICMA?
I think is important to be a member of both organizations and involved in both organizations. Both of them have offered very good networking opportunities. KACM is almost a family base for me; people that I have known for a couple decades now, who I can question about things that are happening in our state, for example. There are also many familiar face at ICMA but then always new people that I come in contact with when I go to the conference. ICMA has more of a broad network connection and also a greater depth of professional resources that I'm able to tap into.
You mentioned your affiliation with the University of Kansas. What’s the question you get asked most often from students?
I served as a practitioner in residence a number of years ago with the University of Kansas. It was a great honor to be able to do to that. The question that students most often ask me is about balance—life balance. I think young professionals are very interested in how they can really excel at their career but also have a great life.
And I do think that a career in local government is about balance. You have to be really focused on making sure that you're tending to all aspects of your life. As women, sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves. We have to realize that we can't be 110% in every area of our life. Balance by definition really means that we have to be willing to understand that maybe we have to give a little bit up here and there in order to balance it all out and make it work, but it's definitely possible.
There are fewer women than we’d like to see in the profession. What advice do you have for women aspiring to be at the senior levels in local government?
Women (and men, for that matter!) who are young professionals really need to take it upon themselves to reach out to others. If you're really interested in working for in a particular community or in a particular state, reach out to those people and introduce yourself. I have never met anyone in this profession who would not respond positively to a young person contacting them—people are very responsive and very supportive of young people.
Additionally, take it upon yourself to offer to do things in your organization because you grow as a professional through challenges. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. If you have a really great boss, he or she will be challenging you to do those things. And if your boss isn't giving you some of those challenges, make sure that you are offering to do those things. Say “Hey, I really don't know anything about this, but I would like to get experience, so can you give me some opportunities in that area?” I think that most people would respond favorably to help your professional development.
Do you have one career highlight that you would like to share?
The thing that I love the best about my job is to be able to see things that have happened in a community. It may not even be the community that I'm in now but one that I have been a part of. Certainly I'm not the reason these things have happened—I'm a part of it. But to know that I was part of something that is lasting in the community, whether it be an initiative, a program, or a physical asset, I feel that's one of the great things about being in the profession. I’m able to see those things happen over time and that is a real gift.
At this particular time, what excites you about being in local government?
Local government plays a key role in helping people have great lives. We have to deal with so many complex challenges in our community. And we have the training, the tools, and the people to be help resolve those challenges. That excites me about being in the profession—knowing that we have continuing challenges and problems that we need to solve.