Throughout her career, Alma Janabajab, management analyst, Santa Barbara County, California, has enjoyed making connections and bringing people together. Alma spoke with ICMA about her professional background, starting out in local government, and what she hopes to accomplish as president of the Municipal Management Association of Southern California (MMASC).
How did you get involved in local government?
Growing up I didn’t like politics, so I never really considered local government as a career choice. After high school, I heard that the city of Oxnard was hiring, so I applied, not really knowing much about it. I started in Oxnard as “extra help,” then worked for over 10 years as a regular employee in the finance and police departments. Oxnard broke me out of my comfort zone. I really appreciated the flexibility and creativity. I had the opportunity to join the citywide training program and I’ve been involved in training ever since.
After my time in Oxnard, I moved to city of Manhattan Beach as their deputy city clerk, then joined the county of Santa Barbara doing corporate training. We had the Employees’ University, which opened up a training center. I love training and I am very passionate about professional development. Through this work, I was able to meet a lot of people and wear a lot of different hats. It’s like a business—all about customer service. We had a great team and a great time.
Then I was transferred to the Human Resources Department, where I did some recruitment work. I would go to job fairs like the one at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). In talking with students, I heard that they think government only creates policies. “With my [fill in the blank] degree,” they wondered “how do I fit in with the county?” I created a spreadsheet for UCSB to match how the various degrees would fit into the county’s different departments and different positions. Getting the word out was an “aha” moment for many of the students, opening up opportunities. Again, I found my role in building connections and encouraging people.
Now I’m in the Social Services Department staff development division and back to training. My main responsibility is to design e-learning courses on changes to policies, state mandates, etc. Since our department is so spread out throughout the county, e-learning provides the best learning platform. We’re able to deliver a consistent message, and we don’t have to pay for travel time. In addition, I also manage our Learning Management System.
I really love being part of the leadership and professional development committee for our department. We provide a lot of professional development opportunities, including mentorship. We’ve incorporated a number of changes into our mentorship program, i.e., including mentees from the previous year to improve the program, having the mentees choose their own mentor, and providing more mentor training. The county organization is looking at a mentorship program and looking to our department since we have been so successful.
MMASC is in its third year of a mentorship program, which I co-chaired for the last two years.
How did you get involved with MMASC?
My supervisor was approached by the city of Santa Barbara for suggestions on a region chair for MMASC. I had no idea what I was walking into. Thankfully, Laura (Biery) Minnich, who was the incoming MMASC president at the time, helped me get connected and was very supportive. I was a region chair for my first four years as a member and have been on the executive board for the last four years now. Through MMASC I have built connections with amazing, talented professionals of different levels in their career throughout California and have acquired additional leadership experience that I would have not been able to gain through my employer.
One thing I’ve taken to heart is the importance of reaching out to others. As a first-time attendee at an MMASC conference, I didn’t know anyone. First-time attendees now have blue dots on their badges making it easier for board members to reach out to new attendees and make a connection.
Because of my staff development background, we talked about transfer of learning at the last annual conference. We encouraged our members to share information with their organizations, teams, and supervisors – reinforcing what they learn at our events. We encouraged them to find other projects to incorporate what they learn. Knowledge is power when it’s shared.
What do you hope to accomplish this year as president of MMASC?
It’s all about bringing people together and connecting them. I hope to build on the excellent network we’ve established in Southern California by adding some events like a southern California Women Leadership Summit event and the ICMA Regional Summit, and want to continue the fun events that we’ve had (such as hiking, golf, and a hot chocolate race).
This also holds true with our collaboration with other professional associations. For instance, there’s a great opportunity to strengthen our relationship with the Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC). MMANC is really good at the business side of things, and they like how we network. Why not get together? I’m also involved as the MMASC representative to the California Institute for Local Government, and hope to incorporate their work into our annual conference as well as my county.
I really want to connect young professionals through MMASC, ICMA, WLG, etc., for an association fair (like an education fair). It’s hard to navigate your options when there are so many choices—what’s available, and how will it benefit me? A fair format would allow us to get together to not only showcase our respective associations, but provide an opportunity for partnership among our associations.
I look forward to our continued partnership with ICMA and to getting more involved myself. I hope to provide more visibility for our organization and to introduce the value of ICMA to colleagues across Southern California. Having had the opportunity to attend ICMA’s Annual Conference, I experienced first-hand the value of the ICMA member network; I was able to reconnect with colleagues and friends from California as well as make new professional connections with local government staff from across the country and around the world.
What are the biggest issues challenging the profession or local government?
There is a lot of movement in Southern California and a lot of momentum with the “next generation.” Our city managers and assistant city managers are moving on or retiring, which creates opportunities for me and my colleagues, many of whom are assistants to the manager or working in the city manager’s office.
I recently met with my mentor – who was the MMASC president when we celebrated our 50th year – Jim Lewis, city manager in Pismo Beach. He mentioned how we used to talk about the “next” generation. But really, we’re the “now” generation. He asked me “How do you get this generation to step up to take the next step?” It’s hard when agencies don’t support that; I’m not sure why they don’t see the value.