We’re back with another installment of The Assistant series. Today we hear from Sarah Medary, Assistant City Manager for Eugene, OR
City of Eugene, OR – Assistant City Manager
Sarah Medary serves as Assistant City Manager and Executive Director for Planning and Development at the City of Eugene, OR. Sarah is a natural leader and works closely with the City’s elected officials and executive team on some of the most challenging issues facing the community. In Eugene, that list includes homelessness, economic prosperity, urban growth and all things livability. However, it’s her unique path to the City Manager’s Office that truly inspires. A student of Landscape Architecture & Horticulture, Sarah continues to apply everything she learned about creativity and design to solve complex problems.
After serving in an interim capacity for six months, Sarah was appointed to the role of Assistant City Manager in February 2009. Throughout her career she has sought out opportunities to work with the community through efforts such as the Neighborhood Empowerment Initiative, Eugene 08 Track and Field Trials, the Homeless Initiative and the City’s Diversity program. Medary also led implementation of the Eugene’s Triple-Bottom-Line decision making process, a framework of policies, strategies, budgets and processes based on environmental stewardship, social equity and sustainable economics.
In 2012 Sarah was the recipient of ICMA’s Buford M. Watson Award. The award recognizes a local government professional who has made significant contributions toward excellence in leadership. While she will take credit for some projects, she attributes most of her successes to the teams she has been honored to work with. She strongly believes that everyone is a leader and invests much of her time mentoring and helping others grow and succeed. In addition to her undergraduate education, Sarah obtained a M.A. in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in 2011.
Balancing work and play is important to Sarah and while she has a lot of fun every day in her work, you can also find her fly fishing, boating, playing tennis, taking photos, cooking and hanging out with her partner, Jen, and itty bitty Australian Shepherd, Rio.
Background Check on Eugene, OR
Sited at the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Eugene is one of Oregon’s largest cities with a population of nearly 160,000. Combined with it’s neighbor Springfield, OR, the two communities anchor one of the state’s largest MSA’s. Affectionately known as the “Emerald City” and “Track Town USA”, the community frequently finds itself in the spotlight for national and world qualifying athletic events. Eugene’s athletic roots run deep and the City is recognized as the birth place of Nike.
As home to the University of Oregon, the City has been at the forefront of innovative partnerships including the university’s Sustainable Cities Initiative. Eugene has many robust sustainability programs and works hard to maintain it’s natural areas accessible as first rate outdoor recreational space.
The City of Eugene is governed by a Mayor and eight member city council, each member is elected to a four year term and representing one of the City’s eight wards. The Mayor is elected at large every four years and only votes in the event of a tie. On the Administrative side, the City’s leadership consists of a City Manager and Assistant City Manager.
First concert you attended:
Phil Collins, Face Value – you haven’t lived if you haven’t air drummed LIVE to In the Air Tonight.
Dream job as a child:
I wanted to be a mom. I thought that was the coolest job there was.
Book you are currently reading:
One Continuous Mistake – Four Noble Truths for Writers
If ELGL visited Eugene, where should we go to lunch?
Tacovore in the Whit – and you really should come for lunch.
Before I die I want to…
restore water flows to the Upper Deschutes River and write a seriously funny book.
Q & A with Sarah
Your first local government job:
I was a part time park specialist on the irrigation crew. I maintained and repaired irrigation systems in our parks and right of ways. This job SOLD me on public service. The care and professionalism of the team blew my mind. My idea of “slow paced bureaucrats” was replaced with the reality of fast paced, hard working, innovative and compassionate leaders at every level of the organization.
Three professional accomplishments that you are most proud of:
From a project standpoint, the re-development of downtown Eugene during our community’s worst economic time. From 2008 to now, we have partnered with private business and public partners to bring 300 million of investments during a time everyone would have said IMPOSSIBLE. Downtown is a completely transformed space filled with creative energy, great food/bars and awesome people. I helped lead this, but it was definitely the work of many. I am a definite “we can do this” person and my role was more about identifying opportunities, growing relationships and letting staff actually implement plans.
I’m still very proud of the work we did to bring the Olympic Trials back to Eugene in 2008. It was an event that had not been held in Eugene since 1980. Eugene’s reputation as TrackTown was kind of waning and there wasn’t a lot of understanding of what it might mean for the City of Eugene. I was working as the Recreation division manager at the time and we, and all other staff, were directed to make this the best event ever…within our existing resources. And we did. That event changed our future. The energy and enthusiasm for track and field and our community heritage was ignited in a big way.
I’m most proud of the work I do every day. The role I play as a leader in local government to provide awesome service to our community inspires me. I seriously love this work and I am a strong believer that local government could be on the cover of Fast Company for our creative and resilient approach to solving some of our country’s most difficult problems. Every day I make decisions that impact employees and community members. It is the way I approach them and the heart with which I deliver them that I am most proud of.
Tell us about a project you are currently working on.
Right now, I’m most interested and challenged by a hashtag – #INSPIREtheWORLD
There’s just something about a hashtag that makes you want to get involved, right? Eugene is hosting the World Track and Field Championships in 2021. This will be the first time this event has ever been held in the United States, and it is typically held in cities with populations in the millions…Paris, London, Beijing…Eugene, population 160K. Seriously? 6 billion people from around the world will be watching Eugene, Springfield, Lane County and the state of Oregon. We think we can inspire them. With the most amazing parks and natural areas, transportation, local foods, beer and how we have gone about solving difficult problems such as homelessness.
Give us three tips for succeeding as an Assistant City Manager.
Be a rock of trust and dependability for the City Manager – if the CM is not genuinely somebody you trust, respect and want to work for, don’t do it. The relationship between you is paramount to both of you.
Find something to laugh about every day – especially during times it may seem completely inappropriate.
Be authentic and also recognize you have a tremendous amount of ability to influence people, programs and policies. Just be yourself and be real.
Your local government mentors
The very first lead workers I worked for in Parks, John Clark and Bill Dunham. They have both retired now, but I still point to them as influencing from day one my perception of public service. They taught me the dignity of waking up people sleeping in the parks before we tested irrigation systems. They taught me if you have three minutes left in your day, you can sweep the floor. And, they taught me to laugh every day with silly pranks and shenanigans.
Eugene’s City Manager, Jon Ruiz. He’s why I was interested in being the ACM and why I’m interested in City Management. His approach was totally different than I had seen in my past. His focus, even during the recession, was on abundance. We cut a quarter of our general fund and very few people left our organization involuntarily. That was an amazing leadership accomplishment.
My peers on the executive team – Fire chief, Police Chief, Public Works Director, Library/Rec/Cultural Services Director, Central Services, City attorney. Each of them continues to teach me something new every week. I rely on them completely to help me work through issues.
If we ever encounter you on an interview panel, give us a few specific tips for making a good impression.
I hope you do!
You will be authentic in your love of local government, you’ll share examples that are great stories that inspire me, you’ll know the job you are applying for, you’ve probably dug a little deeper than most and even know some of the challenges. You’ll be curious and energetic and when I ask you if you have any questions, you will have some.
Finding the right work/life balance is a constant struggle for many of us, what is your approach to maintaining your personal life while leading a successful professional career?
I fly fish and play tennis. Fly fishing gets me out on lakes and rivers in a very meditative way. It gets me outdoors where every minute refills my soul and returns my energy…sometimes in a 2:1 ratio. Tennis requires me to make a commitment a week in advance and keep it. If I wasn’t doing that, I’d blow it off. It keeps me active and connected with a totally non-City group of friends.
(Complete the sentence) Local government is….
Gritty, creative, engaging and awesome. [At first, I just said f*&^%$g awesome, but then realized I probably shouldn’t drop the f bomb on our first date.
How do you think local government will change over the next ten years?
I don’t know. What do you think? I tend to think that it will become less of a 30 year gig and will appeal more to people who want to change the world – one city at a time. I could write about this for at least an hour.
Would you encourage your children to consider local government as a career?
I think everyone should work in local government, I’m not as certain about saying it needs to be a career. Having a “career” implies that you have a personal life and then this work life called a career. I encourage everyone to live a life that inspires them so there are no regrets. I happen to think working in local government is a great place to do that.
What questions should we have asked you?
What is the funniest autocorrect you’ve ever texted your boss? I told him I was going to be late, my cat had died. But it was my car.