What attracted you to a career in local government, and what was your path to becoming a city manager?
I began my work with the City of Santa Clarita in 1996 as an intern while I was still in college and quickly realized that I wanted to focus on serving the community through a career in local government. Since that time, I have served in a leadership role in nearly every department within the City, leading to my current role as City Manager.
What project are you the most proud of from your time as a city manager?
I’m fortunate to have been involved in many projects throughout my 24 years with the City, ranging from keeping Santa Clarita free from graffiti to the redevelopment of Main Street in Newhall. And, most recently, the construction of a new Sheriff’s Station. Even with the excitement that comes with completing large capital projects, what I’m most proud of as City Manager is the people I work with. The City of Santa Clarita has a strong philosophy focused on providing high-quality services to our community, while still being able to maintain a small-town feel. Our staff is over 600 strong, yet our City’s residents don’t receive services or responses that feel bureaucratic.
Over the last 33 years as a City, and even as we still continue to grow as a community, we have maintained our focus on staying connected with residents through direct and frequent communication with them. Our staff are supported through professional development and training opportunities, an internal mentoring program, and employee-driven wellness programs; as a result, they feel more connected to the organization and have maintained their eagerness to service the community.
When and how do you interact with the residents of your city?
Part of my commitment to our residents is to be reachable through a variety of platforms. I return calls, respond to all emails and can also be reached through the City’s online Resident Service Center. I feel it is important to remain connected to the members of our community, and that means not limiting the ways in which they are able to contact me.
What are two of the greatest challenges facing city managers in California today?
Change is expected, but the speed at which we seem to be moving these days is absolutely a challenge. As the environment and people’s expectations change, it is making it more challenging to ensure communication to residents is given in a timely manner in order to maintain our commitment to being open, honest and transparent. A second challenge that we are being faced with (and this is across our nation) is the political polarity we are seeing amongst our communities. California in particular is an amazingly diverse state, and we are in need of finding ways to come together to support each other, particularly during what has been an incredibly difficult and trying year for everyone.
As a city manager, how do you help uphold the public’s trust in local government?
In Santa Clarita, we take pride in operating in a non-bureaucratic manner. We keep our residents informed of what’s going on in the City, and solicit feedback from them to learn more about what they feel are priorities for our community. We gather feedback through surveys, emails, phone calls and not only listen to those who opt to speak during a City Council meeting, but we follow up directly with them regarding their comments or questions. Maintaining a continuous flow of communication with residents helps them feel more connected and committed to the City and, ultimately, each other.
What are some of the benefits of a council-manager form of city government?
We have a clear separation of duties for the work of staff versus the Council. We’re able to draw a distinct line between administrative responsibilities and the policy/political aspect of local government.
How does the issue of local control impact the future of California?
With the erosion of local control comes a one-size-fits-all policy system, which ultimately has a negative impact on the residents of our very diverse community. Los Angeles County, for example, is the most populous county in the nation and accounts for nearly 10 million residents. With 120-125 unincorporated areas and 88 incorporated cities, the diversity of LA County is unparalleled. What may work for one community of residents out of over 200 areas/cities may not work for Santa Clarita.