What inspired you to enter city management?
There was a calling and a passion for public service during my high school days at Los Amigos High School in Fountain Valley. I wanted to serve and make a positive impact in any community. It is gratifying to put the collective good before the needs of individuals.
How did you become a city manager?
My journey to the city manager role has been longer than most, but it has all been worth it. My success today is attributed to my mentors, leaders and professional colleagues that have helped shape me along this journey. I began my career as an intern with the city of Santa Ana in the community development department/empowerment zone. As an intern, I had the opportunity to learn the functions of various committees, advocating programs and services for the disadvantaged population.I built a solid foundation with the city of Brea as my roles advanced from economic development to finance then the development services department. Here, I developed the necessary skills to advance in local government with extensive exposure in business development, community relations, budgeting, transportation and engineering. I spent 10 years in an analyst role strengthening my technical and administrative skills through special projects, research, legislative and budgetary analysis while assisting city council, commissions and city managers. In the assistant to the city manager and deputy city manager roles, I excelled by working and listening to community influencers and elected officials to advance initiatives and policies that ensured long-term fiscal stability. I must acknowledge and thank the leaders and facilitators of CCMF 2021 New & Future City Managers Seminar for the networking, in-depth discussions and legendary stories to guide me in the last year. I overcame many challenges thus far in my career so when the city manager position became available in March 2022 with the city of Fountain Valley, I knew I was ready to take on the challenge. I strive to be proactive, prepared and ready to build strong working relationships at all levels. What a ride it has been so far!
What do you enjoy the most about your role?
The most rewarding part of my role is serving the community that I love so much. My goal is to make a positive impact in my organization and throughout the community. I enjoy the constant pivoting and ability to build a solid team to overcome challenges that we face as public servants day in and day out. At the end of the day, I (we) strive to generate revenue to maintain our programs and services, grow and improve local infrastructure and community services while ensuring the community feels safe. It is gratifying when my employees tell me that they feel appreciated and that I focus on “teamwork” through actions.
What role does a city manager play in local government, and how do you feel it differs from that of a councilmember or mayor?
City managers are relationship-builders and problem-solvers for the greater good with no political agenda. We focus on the good of the community, not a segment of a population or constituents. We live by the ICMA code of ethics in which we are committed to: equity, transparency, integrity, stewardship of public resources, political neutrality and respect for the rights and responsibility of elected officials and residents strengthens democratic local governance.
What does your typical day look like?
My days are straightforward until I get a call or email from a resident on issues and concerns that need to be attended to immediately. Some days consist of reviewing and preparing a staff report for the next city council meeting with follow-up questions from elected officials. Additionally, I communicate with elected officials and follow up on their inquiries so they do not feel any disconnect from city hall or the community. Some days I work with the management team to focus on our organization’s work culture to help keep up employee morale. We identify opportunities to communicate with employees and the community where possible so they are continuously engaged. It is non stop sometimes, and I have to give myself permission to rest or just crash to re-energize.
What city project are you most proud of?
I am proud to have worked alongside my former city manager and executive team in 2016 on the successful passage of a sales tax initiative. This sales tax was intended to stabilize our city’s financial standing for the next 20 years. Despite the pushback from citizens who did not want to accept the necessity, we successfully held over 20 community workshops that educated the public on the importance of the sales tax initiative and what it could offer our city. Furthermore, an inaugural Experience Fountain Valley Food & Wine event was coordinated with many community partners in 2019. This event was intended to bridge the gap between our demographic while simultaneously raising funds for nonprofit organizations. Now that the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, we are excited we are working hard to generate new revenues to better serve our community.
What are the greatest challenges facing city managers in the state today?
The greatest challenges we have are the constant unfunded mandates that reduce our ability to utilize our resources to provide better programs and services in our community. These unfunded mandates force us to increase fees, thus creating unhappy customers who come out in force to voice their dissatisfaction at city council meetings. Additionally, the Great Resignation has left us with a small pool of eligible candidates to select from when filling vacancies. With more responsibilities and less manpower, our employees are left feeling burnt out.
When and how do you interact with the residents of your city?
I enjoy connecting with my community through many forms of communication. Tools I rely on heavily include our monthly newsletter, social media posts and in-person meetings/luncheons/events. This year, I plan to roll out City Manager’s Update videos to address our community on important subject matters. These videos will address important inquiries received by the community and elected officials. When issues or inquiries arise, I see that as an opportunity to educate our community as a whole.
What is the role of a city manager in upholding the public’s trust in local government?
Extremely critical—a city manager is the leader of an organization, so when there is a lack of trust, it impacts our front line employees such as police officers, firefighters and public works staff in the field. For this reason, I always ask myself: “How does this look to the public eye?” I keep myself in check all the time. I strive to be a good, trusted public servant.
How are cities shaping the future of California?
We no longer operate within our city limit. We work collectively with surrounding cities to identify opportunities where we can partner on a regional or statewide level. An example of this would be the homelessness crisis we have been working on for the last 10 years. As a city, we are required to work with all levels of government—local, state and federal—to pull together resources and provide affordable housing for our communities. Our goal is to move the unhoused population into transitional housing and provide continuum care so they can get the necessary help for their situation. The cities of Fountain Valley, Garden Grove and Westminster have partnered to open a future Central Cities Navigation Center at the end of 2023.