Linda Monahan (the wife of Bill Monahan, City of Milwaukie and the mom of Zoe Monahan, City of Tualatin) wrote this blog post about the impact of a local government career on partners and families.
In recent months, city managers in Oregon and across the nation have been unceremoniously fired and/or subjected to public ridicule. This experience is sobering, humbling, frustrating and frightening for not only the city manager but their partner. I’m writing from the perspective of a survivor and the partner of one who has worked in local government for 41 years. I hope that my story will provide some insight and support to other partners.
- Know what you are getting into. I was fortunate. I have an MPA and I was working in local government when I met and married my spouse. I understood that elected officials giveth and taketh away. I knew about the long hours, endless evening meetings and the visibility of those who choose to work in the public sector. If you have never sat through a council meeting or had to make a presentation with the camera going in the midst of an angry citizenry, it may be difficult to understand the trials and tribulations of the city manager.
- Expect the unexpected. Your partner may come home one evening and report that council voted 5-2 to fire them. This event may have been simmering for weeks or come out of the blue or as a result of an election. You may find that your partner is suddenly out of work. Your partner may be ridiculed in print and social media and on the 7:00am, noon and 5:00pm TV news. Don’t read press or follow social media. It will just make you crazy and angrier. Your sense of normal will be disrupted and your future uncertain. This comes with the territory.
- Support your partner. Your partner will be bummed, stressed and angry. You need to be prepared to listen, advise and chart a course to move on. Events may royally screw up your own career, place in the community and if you have kids, their lives as well. Get an attorney who can manage the employment separation, not only with severance pay and benefits but a graceful exit which will put your partner in a better position to land on their feet without their reputation being disparaged. I had a job for all but 2 years of my spouses career until I retired, so with salary and benefits (albeit substantially less than that of a city manager), we had some income.
- Be your own advocate for getting needs met. Your partner will never be home. (See #1.) You may feel like a single parent. Your partner may not be mowing the lawn, attending soccer practices, taking the kids to the orthodontist or balancing the checking account. Hiring a housekeeper saved my sanity. When my spouse did take a kid to the doctor or made time in his schedule to attend a kid’s school event, I was grateful. Lean on friends and find a good therapist. Exercise. Tell yourself that you’ll be able to weather the storm. Since I had my own career, I felt less isolated and alone than if I had chosen to be a stay at home parent.
- Do couples stuff. Be in the public eye and working for and with elected officials can add extra strain to any relationship. ( See #1, 2 and 3 above) We had Friday night date night at least once a month. We stashed the kids with grandma and went to conferences together. We have managed to stay together for 32 years despite law school, 2 kids 23 months apart, 5 job changes (him) and 4 job changes (me.)
- Do family stuff. We took the kids to fairs and festivals. We took them to Hawaii ,Disneyland, the beach and visits to family in Northeastern Oregon and Massachusetts. We planned Sunday outings. We understood when a kid got teased at school because of some action Dad took. We were lucky in that we managed to stay in the same community for 32 years. We only moved twice. I get that this is an anomaly for city managers who may have a shelf life of 3 years. You and the kids will need support, strength, flexibility and kindness. (See #4.)
- Enjoy the ride. Even though city managers seem to be increasingly vilified in the press and social media and elected official are becoming more volatile, know that public service is a satisfying endeavor. We imparted this value to our kids. We continue to be engaged in our community by serving on boards and even litter patrol. The role of the partner to a city manager may be filled with peril but can also be fulfilling if you have perspective and support.