Member Spotlight: Jennifer Pollitt

"Jobs come and go due to political forces or personal aspirations, but no matter what state you serve in, you can always depend on ICMA to provide continuity throughout your career with consistent training, networking, and resources."

ARTICLE | Jan 10, 2014

Jennifer Pollitt is the village administrator of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, which is composed of 45 employees and has a budget of $4.7 million with a mill rate of $4.79. Located at the Illinois border in the southeast corner of Wisconsin, Twin Lakes is home to just over 6,000 permanent residents with a summer population of approximately 8,000. With nearly 1,000 acres of water, the twin lakes of Mary and Elizabeth have drawn vacationers to numerous resorts, as well as attracted ice harvesters in the days of ice-box refrigeration. Today, while the ice harvesting has ended, many homes in Twin Lakes are used for recreation and the lakes remain a popular destination. Pollitt notes that in Twin Lakes, “we have a saying that wraps up our culture: ‘close to everything, but away from it all.’”

Pollitt is proud to have led efforts to improve the village’s financial health. When she started in Twin Lakes, the village was operating with a negative $43,000 fund balance in its general fund. At the time, the financial policy required 25% reserves. Pollitt rewrote the policy to create a more attainable goal of 10% reserves by 2020. She also initiated a spending freeze in the last month of 2012 and the village was able to build reserves to a positive $205,000 and is positioned to carry over additional reserves at the end of 2013. The organization continues to manage spending, including changing assessor firms (saving $50,000/year), reducing attorney fees by eliminating their mandatory presence at board meetings, and amending grants to receive optimum grant funding to pay for public projects. Pollitt also reworked the budget to provide more information to readers about the goals and health of the village. She continues to amend the budget document, working towards GFOA requirements for a Distinguished Budget Award designation.

She is also looking forward to pushing economic development in the community. Pollitt formed the Local Business Partnership, consisting of passionate business owners and professionals in the community looking to bring in business. The Local Business Partnership acts as a resource to new businesses, helping them through the permitting process when applicable, acting as a welcome wagon, and reviewing marketing materials she has designed to attract site selectors and businesses to the area. She is beginning conversations with Kenosha Area Business Alliance to create a business park for small manufacturers in the village, as there is high demand in the county. Pollitt comments, “We have our challenges in Twin Lakes, but I look to local, successful business leaders to help promote this community and help attract, retain, and support businesses.”

Involvement with ICMA

Pollitt encourages colleagues entering the profession to get involved with professional associations like ICMA. “I’m thankful to have the support system and professional development opportunity that ICMA offers. Jobs come and go due to political forces or personal aspirations, but no matter what state you serve in, you can always depend on ICMA to provide continuity throughout your career with consistent training, networking, and resources. With the turnover of managers as baby boomers retire, it’s even more vital that local government professionals receive as much training as possible to set themselves apart. As people outside local government management are hired for the city manager position, ICMA will be a fundamental tool for educating leaders on managing public servants and moving our communities forward. As I progress in my own career, I look forward to becoming a Credentialed Manager to provide structure to my advancement.”

She has been involved with ICMA since graduate school, where one of her local government class instructors encouraged her to become a member. That class included a trip to an ICMA conference. “In 2008, I attended the Richmond, Va., annual conference and immediately found the value of not only workshops and networking, but of general support from peers. With one year as an administrator under my belt, I now have a whole new perspective on conferences. I’ve since attended five conferences and each one seems to become more valuable than the last. I’ve made sure to include ICMA conference attendance in each of my employment contracts, dating back to when I was an intern.”

“I also have ICMA to thank for my first position out of grad school,” when she became Local Government Management Fellow for Howard, Wisconsin, under administrator Joshua Smith, which provided her with “invaluable experience.” “I knew I wanted to be a city manager someday, and was unsure what starter jobs would give me the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to manage a community. I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into a specific department or function. I found the Howard fellowship through ICMA and immediately applied. It was in my home state, and I would work directly with the administrator. The internship didn’t pay much, but it sent me to Montréal for the ICMA conference, where I met several other managers that helped me evolve in my profession.”

She has also found value in ICMA resources such as the members-only ICMA First-Time Administrators Handbook and Range Rider program. She looks forward to getting more involved with ICMA, and was recently appointed to the Advisory Board on Graduate Education.

Background and History

Jennifer Pollitt became the Twin Lakes administrator in September 2012 as both the first female and youngest (26 years old) city manager in the county. She landed a job in “the chair” just three years after receiving her master's degree, but she is no novice to local government.

She was born in Lake Forest, Illinois (where she later interned), and was raised in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Her dad was the village president (before passing away in office) and her mother is a city finance director. Pollitt describes her passion for local government as “the family business.”

In high school, she was a foreign exchange student in Switzerland when the second war on Iraq started. She went into her classroom and saw anti-USA writing on the chalkboard, and the American flag was burned in the street at a protest. The experience was formative. “I was embarrassed and ashamed how little I knew about the U.S. government, politics, and international relations. So I decided to pursue that.” Pollitt attended Arizona State University with a major in political science and French. During a summer internship with her parents at the local village hall, she decided she wanted to specialize in local government; “that is where you have the least bureaucracy, the biggest impact, and are the closest with those you are trying to serve.”

Pollitt began working at the local village hall when she was 14. Since then, she’s worked for five communities in Wisconsin and northern Illinois. “Twin Lakes is just 30 minutes from my hometown and has similar lake-community dynamics and issues. She believes that having family involved in public administration is “an incredible, unique opportunity for professional advice and support.”

In 2009, she earned a master’s of public affairs at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, specializing in public finance and local government management. As a graduate student, she interned with Bob Kiely in Lake Forest where she worked on job descriptions, succession planning, and sustainability initiatives. After graduation she was a Local Government Management Fellow for Howard, Wisconsin, where she worked on a dog park, community gardens, and sustainability initiatives. After the fellowship ended, Jennifer accepted a position with the city of Green Bay, first as sustainability coordinator, then as Mayor Schmitt’s chief of staff. “I enjoyed my position, however it was too political. I was brought in on fundraising, campaigning, and had to work within the mayor/council political constraints. I quickly realized I wanted to focus back on management, and step out of the political arena.”

Jennifer Pollitt looks forward to continuing her second year at Twin Lakes. She looks forward to a bright year ahead professionally and personally, continuing her efforts on economic development and financial stability, capped with her wedding in July 2014. Jennifer and her fiancé, Tyler Frederick, fit right in in Twin Lakes; they enjoy wakeboarding, waterskiing, and barefooting and recently bought their first boat. “We made sure to find the community that was right for us before I accepted a management position,” Pollitt remarks. “Twin Lakes had all the components I was looking for--close proximity to family, passionate people, lake recreation options, and the opportunity to make a difference.”

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