Phil Smith-Hanes, County Administrative Officer for Humboldt County, CA, joins our team of columnists. He’ll write on topics ranging from career advice to the differences in working for a county as opposed to a city.
#13Percent: I’m A Middle-Aged White Guy
By: Phil Smith-Hanes, LinkedIn and Twitter
Hi, I’m Phil. Once upon a time (which in my mind is not so long ago), I was an Emerging Leader (complete with my ELDP certificate from ICMA). So I feel like, you know, I ought to pay it forward or something. Accordingly, I’m a coach with the Cal-ICMA coaching program, and I’ve offered to share some rambling thoughts with ELGL.
I’ve got lots of interests: the weird and wonderful place that is California, the role of mentoring and internships in developing local government leaders, the great city vs. county divide, the gay agenda in local government, governance in rural areas, and more. But the hot topic at the moment seems to be the paucity of women in top roles in local government so I thought I’d start there.
As a middle-aged white guy, why do I care about the #13percent? Because, like John McCarter, I’ve had some great female role models in my career. In fact, out of the four people who have been key inspirations to me to get where I am today, three were women. I want to thank Sam Taylor for his post highlighting the importance of City Clerks. It was a great reminder to me about my very first role model in local government. I grew up in a small town (population 600, but it was the fourth biggest of the 12 incorporated cities in our county).
As a young child, I remember going to City Hall with my mom (probably to pay the water bill). The woman behind the desk was our City Clerk, Sheryl Bartlett, and she knew everything that was going on in town. The only other municipal employees I knew were the guys who read the meters and picked up the garbage and it was clear even at a very young age that I was destined for a “desk job.” Sheryl just seemed to have the coolest gig I could imagine.
Our town was too small to have its own high school, so I went to high school 10 miles away in the county seat (population 1,600). When I was a freshman I got to do an independent study course, and I chose to focus on state and local government. I got paired with three folks – our state representative (who later went on to be the state budget director), our County Attorney, and the Mayor of the county seat town. That Mayor, Peggy Blackman, was at the time serving as president of the state League of Municipalities. I got to go with her to the League conference – the first of many professional conferences in my life – and learn how leadership in local government could affect not only your own community but others as well.
Fast forward 20 years, three degrees and a tour through urban living to another (albeit somewhat more populous) rural area. There you’ll find the woman who is responsible for me having my current job. Back in the day, Loretta Sands was the very first woman to work in our County Administrative Office – as an analyst. By the time I came along, she was in charge. And when she was ready to retire, she encouraged me to apply as her successor.
There have been other women – as well as men – who’ve inspired, encouraged and mentored me along the way. Without these three women, however, I wouldn’t have imagined a career in local government for myself. Their inspiration also shaped the kind of manager I have become. So, yes, I get that each of us is capable of exercising leadership from wherever we happen to be in an organization. But to me, it really does matter how many women we have in visible executive positions in local government. It’s personal.