I see my role in public service as building trust with marginalized communities and providing a role model for the diverse group of individuals who will be leading our cities in the future.
Pamela Weir is the assistant to the city manager of Goodyear, Arizona.
How did you enter the profession?
I discovered my passion for local government nearly by accident. As an undergraduate student, I initially explored a career in national politics. I spent my junior year of college in Washington, D.C., as a congressional intern and safe schools policy advocate. The member of the House of Representatives I worked for started his government career as a mayor. I enjoyed hearing his stories about working in local government and learned about the myriad issues cities must manage. At the same time, I observed the divisiveness of politics at the federal level. While I was still passionate about government service, I was disillusioned by the lack of progress occurring during my time in Washington. The following summer I worked back in Phoenix for an organization serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth, many of whom were homeless. Working with them and understanding their challenges solidified my desire to pursue a career at the local level, where I could have a tangible positive impact on the lives of people in my community.
As I researched graduate school options, I discovered the MPA program at Arizona State University and its Marvin Andrews Fellowship. The fellowship presented an opportunity for me to further my education in government at the local level while gaining practical experience working for the Alliance for Innovation and cities in the area. I began learning about the position of city manager and it immediately sparked my interest. The opportunity to run a city: I couldn't say no to that.
Why local government?
Local government uniquely combines a lot of my passions in a way that other careers do not. First, I'm very passionate about creating a sense of place in the community where I live and also providing basic services so that residents can go about their lives and follow their own dreams. Second, I'm a lifelong learner and I believe in continuous education. Being a city manager in particular demands that you're constantly keeping up-to-date on new practices in local government. Third, collaboration is crucial to success in this profession. Bringing together people from different sectors, perspectives, identities, and disciplines allows creativity and collaboration to flourish. Finally, on a personal level, I derive immense satisfaction from seeing the tangible results of my work. When you're serving the public locally, you're also serving your neighbors and your friends.
What is best about your job?
Knowing that the work that I'm doing is having a direct impact on the people around me and creating a place where people can feel safe, secure, and empowered is so rewarding. I love working in a city manager's office because of the interdisciplinary nature of the job. In a single week I might work on a capital project, a budget, draft a new policy, or work to resolve a resident’s issue. Every day is different.
What are the biggest challenges?
The learning curve is high this early in my career. Our profession is multifaceted and brings unforeseen challenges on a regular basis. So, at this stage in my development I am focused on soaking up as much information as I can, and working to develop my leadership skills. I've been fortunate to have many mentors along the way and people to learn from. Having those folks behind me to encourage me has made any challenge possible to overcome.
The local government management profession as a whole has the significant challenge of building public trust in a volatile social atmosphere where polarizing identity politics and systemic inequalities are threatening our communities. While challenging, I believe it is a huge opportunity for local government leaders to model empathy and acceptance of diversity. One way the profession can address these challenges is by continuing to be more inclusive and facilitating regular conversations on how to use our differences to make us stronger, rather than divide us.
What advice would you offer to others looking to enter the profession?
I can't underscore enough the importance of networking. Connecting with experienced professionals and peers in your region or at ICMA conferences and other events is invaluable. In order to develop your network, it is necessary to be able to communicate your background and aspirations clearly and concisely. Following up after making a professional connection is also crucial; it is amazing how a simple thank you note can spark a relationship for years.
So what would you like to accomplish in your career – at this early stage, what would you like your legacy to be?
First and foremost I want every community that I work for to be better off because I was there. This early in my career I do not know exactly what form that impact will take, but I intend to serve with integrity, vision, and drive to elevate the level of public discourse on governance in any community that I serve.
I am also thrilled to be a part of increasing the number of women in public leadership positions and pushing our profession to embrace diversity. We will all serve our communities better when we understand the complex identities and experiences that our neighbors, customers, and colleagues possess. I hope that in my career I start to see more people of color, women, LGBT folks, and members of other historically marginalized communities rise to leadership positions. I plan to encourage and mentor young professionals with diverse backgrounds and experiences to help make that a reality.
Why did you feel like it was important to join ICMA?
I was thrilled to learn when I started my journey in local government that ICMA existed, that there was such an association of professionals dedicated to leading exceptional communities. ICMA turns local governance into a global endeavor by linking communities from all over the world and allowing them to exchange ideas and share challenges. Most challenges to local government are not unique; having a network to be able to share experiences is crucial to everyone’s success.