Conversation with the City Manager...
Where do you reside? Currently in Trumansburg, but we closed on a Geneva Home on December 29, 2022 and we will be moving in shortly
Occupation: City Manager
Professional background: BFA in Theater, MS in Strategic Leadership, Non-profit and local government
TV series you are watching: Ginny and Georgia, Parks and Recreation (on repeat)
Book you are reading: A book to escape: The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Keeton ; A book about my work: Hyperlocal by Jennifer S. Vey and Nate Storring; A book to grow: The Sum of Us by Heather McGee
No. 1 thing on your bucket list: Too many to rank!
You grew up in the region - where and what was the best things you did when you were growing up? There is so much to do in the Finger Lakes between enjoying the natural beauty and activities of the lakes, gorges, and trails; to the community celebrations and unique resources in the area; to the people and the ideas that were born on this land. I was fortunate to grow up in the heart of the Finger Lakes experiencing all that the community had to offer.
Did you think back then that you would come back to the Finger Lakes for your career? I had dreams of moving away and working in the theater industry, but the local community called me home. My first post-college position was at the American Red Cross in the Finger Lakes. The organization and people of the Red Cross set my career path of Public Service through providing me an outlet in high school and college to serve the community.
What made you decide to pursue a career in public service/ municipal management? Is it what you initially wanted to do? The public service path found me. Initially I went to college for theater and teaching, and as a first-generation college student I believe my parents were just excited I went to college. They supported my path forward, whatever it may be, though I quickly dropped education and took on theater as a career. Although my classes were focused on theater, performance, and design, my roots kept leading me back to the Finger Lakes and the Red Cross's HIV/AIDS Peer Education program. Spending summers' working with teens from throughout Seneca, Yates, Wayne, and Ontario counties became my passion and while I infused theater into my work, my overarching goal continued to be to find ways to make a difference for the community. When I returned to school for a Master's Degree, I dreamed of starting my own non-profit to support community development for youth with a focus on changing systems and policies. That focus would lead me to local government in 2010. From there I became fully involved in not only looking at systems, policies, and finances for youth programming but for all of our community and a local government love was formed. I think it's important to acknowledge that had amazing mentors along the way that could see my love of learning and service. Without them I don't know where my path would have led as they supported and guided me to where I am today.
What has been the most satisfying thing for you, these first few months as Geneva's city manager? One of the most satisfying things I have seen so far is watching our City leadership team come together. The city staff and our community has seen so many challenges over the last several years. If we only had to take on one of the many challenges it would have been overwhelming but to tackle community unrest, pandemics, leadership changes, downtown redesigns, and so much more is beyond expectation of what a team can endure. That's why it is satisfying for me to see my team come out of the trauma of the past few years and to put that service of the community above themselves, finding new roads forward and rethinking how to better provide for our city.
What was the easiest thing to do? What do you find most challenging? I don't look at things as easy and hard. Sometimes the things I think are going to be a challenge are far easier than I thought and vice versa. Of course, there are things I enjoy more - like meeting with community members, learning and sharing stories about the impact our work has on the people of the city, and working with my team to bring an idea to fruition. Similarly, there are things I enjoy less like balancing the varying priorities, working through the piles of paperwork often involved within government work, and overcoming structures that have been in place for over hundreds of years.
What do you think are the city's greatest challenges for 2023? People talk about housing, economic development, the police, food insecurity, the environment. How do you set priorities? The City has a lot of opportunities, possibilities, and challenges ahead. Some of these things are local in nature and others are far bigger than the City. All of the items you have listed are areas that local government impacts. When you think about government services, it’s hard to find something in your everyday life that isn’t impacted by the government, which means identifying the greatest challenge is nearly impossible, because there are challenges at every turn. When it comes to setting priorities for our City, I am fortunate that I have a well skilled staff that looks at the systems in our city to see what we can move forward each year in order to best serve our residents. My personal view on priority setting is to be focused on the tangible steps towards success and not necessarily solving everything at once. So, in 2023, we will look at each area and plan actionable steps with those impacted departments to move our city forward. We will continue to look at the root of the challenges and how our City resources can best be used to overcome the challenges.
This city council has some strong personalities that take divergent positions. What do you call upon within yourself when you see conflict from the council coming your way? Elected officials often run for office to make a difference for a community they are passionate about. As I have gotten to know the members of our council, I have found that while their tactics may be divergent in nature, their deep passion for the City of Geneva and the people in the community, is something they all share. They do have strong opinions on how to achieve success, which may look different from councilmember to councilmember, but at the root of it all is an innate desire to support the residents, workers, and visitors to our City. When a conflict arises among the council members, I look to see what impact they are attempting to achieve and how my team can assist them in carrying out their policy direction as a body.
Personally, what kinds of goals have you set for yourself in the next five years? Ten years? Do you think they are attainable in Upstate NY? My personal goal in the next five – ten years is to continue to grow and learn. I feel that my mission in life is to serve as a connector for the people, making their dreams of a better future a reality. I am best suited to do this through learning about present and past states and working with others to achieve future realities. I absolutely think these goals are attainable in Upstate New York. We have a vibrant and beautiful community full of potential.
What do you like to do when you are not being the city manager? Reading, hiking with my dogs, attending theater, sporting events, and concerts, serving on a few local boards and national organizations like the Engaging Local Government Leaders board of directors, and finding time to enjoy good food with my friends and family.
What do you want people to know about you that hasn't necessarily come up in the conversation? I am a perpetual optimist who enjoys the challenges of life each day. Where others see adversity and disconnection, I see possibilities and ways for people to come together.