Occupation: City Manager
Hometown: Wheaton, Maryland
How is it going so far in your new role as Lynchburg’s city manager?
Well, since these answers are due on my first official day as City Manager, I have to say things are going very well! I have extraordinary confidence that the city’s phenomenal team of employees and I will continue to deliver services to our citizens, our businesses and our visitors in the most efficient, effective and equitable manner possible, and we will be creative and innovative as well.
How does it feel to make history as the city’s first female leader?
Incredibly humbled and really proud to have been chosen as the eighth and first female city manager in 96 years of the council-manager form of government in Lynchburg. Mostly, I am proud that younger women and girls can see that women can rise to positions of leadership in local government.
I really believe in the “if I can see it I can be it” adage, and I hope that I inspire other women to become city, county and town managers. Of the 37 cities in Virginia with a council-manager form of government, only five cities or 13.5% are led by females (Bristol, Hampton, Lynchburg, Portsmouth, Winchester). There are lots of opportunities for women in this profession!
What excites you the most about the work that you are doing now?
I see myself simply as the “conductor” of the symphony with an opportunity to strengthen an already great community. Building partnerships both within city government and, more importantly, outside of city government to make Lynchburg and the region a more connected and collaborative community are important to me. I have always considered myself a problem solver and a “dot-connector;” now I get to use these skills with a new lens.
When you were younger, did you know what you wanted to do?
What led you down this path?
My major at the University of Maryland initially was nursing, but chemistry and I did not get along so I changed my major to housing and applied design—a hybrid of architecture, interior design, psychology and sociology. During my junior and senior years I was fortunate to work two semesters at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This opportunity piqued my interest in making a difference at the local level of government rather than from the lofty policy levels of federal or state government.
How did your previously held positions help prepare you for this position?
While the positions that I have held at HUD, the City of Los Angeles’ Washington Office, Fairfax County, Blacksburg and here as deputy city manager have played a role, it is the people I have worked for and with that have influenced me the most in preparing for this position. They believed in me, they trusted me, they challenged me—I am forever grateful to them for preparing me for this position. I also served as the 99th president of my professional association, the International City/County Management Association, during 2012-2013. That experience helped me strengthen my leadership skills.
What kind of immediate priorities do you have for Lynchburg?
Immediate priorities include filling some key leadership vacancies (deputy city manager, city assessor, human resources director). Also, filling the new assistant city manager position. Also high on my list is meeting with city council members to learn of their priorities as they come together as a new council with two new council members as well as a new mayor and vice mayor.
What do you think are the city’s biggest strengths?
Its people first and foremost! The people of Lynchburg are amazing in their willingness to get things done with the city as a partner but not necessarily the leader. The Lynchburg Humane Society and the Historic Theatre at the Academy Center of the Arts are great examples of Lynchburg’s giving community. We are fortunate to have a diverse economy. The renaissance of downtown, our visual and performing arts community, our recreation opportunities, our education institutions ranging from Lynchburg City Schools to our colleges and universities, and our business community are certainly strengths that make Lynchburg a great place to live, work, play, learn and visit.
What do you think are the city’s biggest weaknesses?
Our biggest weaknesses are our poverty rate and our aging infrastructure. Human and fiscal resources will continue to be constraints.
What kind of a Lynchburg do you envision in 25 years?
Hard to imagine what Lynchburg will be like in 2041! I can only imagine it as a prosperous community with an even more diverse technology and service-driven economy where our poverty rate is minimal. Geographic boundaries will become more blurred and more regional collaboration will be evident.
How would you define your leadership style?
What are some ideals or strategies that you practice for general productivity?
I am a consummate list maker. Mindful meditation, swimming and strength training are tools that improve my productivity on any given day! Being aware that I am more on my “A” game before noon helps me with scheduling meetings that require more critical thinking and problem solving.
What kind of challenges have you overcome as a woman during your career climb?
Throughout my career I have always had to “find my voice” in a sea of male counterparts. I have learned that patience, listening, and timing are keys to my success. Oh…and being able to talk about sports (college football/basketball and NASCAR) is important in predominantly male environments.
What would your advice be to women who are pursuing leadership roles in their places of work?
Lean In, Dare Greatly (thank you Sheryl Sandberg and Brené Brown!), and be a giraffe—stick your neck out and volunteer for leadership opportunities. Really, women need to aspire to lead, create a path, and believe in themselves. Find a mentor. Hire a professional coach to help you pursue your goals. Create a circle of friends that support you in your pursuits. Practice presence and exhibit confidence. (I highly recommend Presence by Amy Cuddy and The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay.)
What’s your history in Lynchburg?
I came to Lynchburg 17 years ago from Blacksburg, where I served as the assistant town manager for nine years—a great move professionally and personally! I have served on many non-profit boards including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the James River Council for the Arts and Humanities, United Way, Riverviews Artspace, Girl Scouts Advisory Board and co-creator of the Heart of Virginia Parrot Head Club.
What’s life like outside of work?
Traveling with Keith (the most supportive and understanding husband on the planet!), enjoying visual and performing arts opportunities, knitting and sometimes quilting. (Full transparency: work/life balance is not my strong suit!)
What do you enjoy the most about this region?
Witnessing the redevelopment of Downtown, the people, our incredible creative arts community, our trails, our natural environment, and our entertainment and dining opportunities!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I have to say there are two pieces of advice that tie for “best”:
“Say yes with pleasure and no with compassion” and “don’t take yourself
What one piece of advice would you share with others?
Live with intention.
Any final words?
A note of gratitude to all who have wished me nothing but the best in my new role as city manager!