What is an Assistant To: Amy Cunningham, City of Dublin, CA

Posted on April 1, 2015

What is an Assistant to the City Manager? In between other duties as assigned, council meetings, and a bewildering assortment of public inquiries, ELGL members identify the essential functions of the position.

 Background Check

Amy Cunningham


 Assistant to the City Manager – Dublin, CA

Amy Cunningham (LinkedIn) studied Political Science and obtained a MPA degree from the California State University – East Bay. Her career in public service started in the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Offices where she served as a Family Support Officer. In 1999, Amy joined the City of Dublin as an Analyst in Police Services. Her career continued to progress and by 2009 she landed in the City Manager’s Office where she took on the responsibilities of Budget Manager. Serving as Budget Manager allowed her to take on new dynamic projects and transition to the role of Assistant to the City Manager. In addition to her degrees, she holds certifications in HR Management and Conflict Resolution.

Lightning Round


My first job was.….

My first tax-paying job was as a cashier/order taker at the local Foster Freeze when I was a high school sophomore. The food service industry was not a good fit for me.  Fortunately I soon moved to another town and was hired as a recreation leader, fueling my interest in local government service.

The last concert that I attended was……

A community theater production of “The Little Mermaid Jr.” The musical version starring my 13 year old niece as Ariel. (Yes, she was amazing!) If this doesn’t count, it was either P!NK in San Jose, CA or George Strait in Denver, CO.

I am currently reading……

There are several… The list includes Middlemarch, George Eliot; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce; Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube; and Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown.

My favorite restaurant is…..

Pamir, a family owned Afghan & Middle Eastern cuisine restaurant.

  The Job

What are three projects you are currently working on?
Interesting – working with a non-profit developer to create an affordable Veterans/Families Apartment community.  The lack of affordable housing is a challenge nationwide, but particularly so in the San Francisco Bay Area.  This project will provide approximately 65 new housing units for our veterans and families.
Interesting – regional funding agreement for expansion of the area’s only medical facility serving low-income and uninsured residents.  Expanding opportunities for community members to receive medical/health services strengthens our entire region.
2-21-12_Minutes_for_PB_Tech_html_6f6f192dInteresting and Challenging – reorganizing our affordable housing programs including incorporating current best practices, and creating human services that meet the needs of our residents in a fiscally responsible way. This effort has included one of my favorite things ~  building a great team of people that are dedicated to serving our residents in the best way possible.
How do you interact with city departments? 
Currently I am interacting more frequently with neighboring jurisdictions, non-profits, and community groups.  When I acted as the City’s Budget Manager, I interacted with every department leading budget and strategic planning initiatives. I found that each department or individual excelled in helping to meet our goals when I used the communication style and method that worked best for them.I am currently managing affordable housing and human services programs and report to the Community Development Director.
Where does your position fall on the organizational chart?
I am currently managing affordable housing and human services programs and report to the Community Development Director.


Aside from a City Manager, who are three professionals or peers you connect with on a regular basis?
Our retired Parks & Community Services Director – I want to be her when I grow up.  She always offers thoughtful comments and has the ability to give positive and encouraging feedback.  She consistently pushes me to be the best professional (and human being) I can be.
I’m cheating with this one, this is three people in one amazing package:  My Cal-ICMA Preparing the Next Generation colleagues: Frank Benest, ICMA Sr. Advisor on Next Gen Initiatives; Tim O’Donnell, CM in Brea, CA; and Don Maruska, Executive Director Coaching Program.  Getting to work with these three guys over the past few years has been an amazing experience, their knowledge and support has been invaluable. Sit down for coffee (or better yet, a beer) with one or all of them and you will be amazed at what you can learn.
Through my organization, I had giphythe opportunity to work with a professional executive coach. Talking for an hour with someone who is essentially required to listen to you and help you learn and develop in specific areas is a fabulous experience. Don’t hesitate to jump right in if you have the opportunity to participate in a program like this!
Did you attend any conferences as a student? Do you attend any now?
I don’t recall attending conferences as an undergrad or grad student.  The conference experiences I value most include anything sponsored by Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC); the League of CA Cities CM Conference; and the ICMA Annual Conference.
I would be asked to step down from my Cal-ICMA Preparing the Next Generation Co-Chair post if I didn’t also mention that we put on some of the best – FREE – webinars through our Coaching Program. The webinars focus on important local government issues and skill development and are available to anyone at any time from any place (find out more:  www.cal-icma.org/coaching).
How do you recommend reaching out to someone for career advice?
Don’t hesitate, just do it!  I have found that most professionals sharing a passion for local government service are more than willing to carve out a little time for you.  A short talk, coffee, lunch, a walk around the block are all valued invitations.  People are very busy and appreciate that you respect their time.  Also don’t limit yourself to just City Managers; there are many others that can offer great insight: ACM’s, department heads, other key players in your organization or other organizations (program managers, analysts), community or school leaders, non-profits, business owners.
Best three questions to ask when connecting with a City Manager?

  • What do you wish your staff would do, or do more of, to help you achieve your goals for the organization?
  • What skill or trait has been most helpful to you in your job success?
  • Who else would you suggest I talk to if I want to learn more about (fill in the blank)?

Getting the Job

Most difficult thing about getting the first job?
Be confident – and realistic.  You probably won’t be starting at the top so be thoughtful about the position you ultimately accept. Ask yourself: Will this job help me build on my skills or reach my personal and professional goals? Will the work be personally meaningful? Set yourself up for short and long-term success, even if it takes a little longer than hoped to find the right fit.
Three pieces of advice in preparing for an interview.
Demonstrate that you take the interview process seriously.

  • Prepare – get to know the organization/community; go beyond just looking at the website, walk and or drive the streets, talk to others who live or work in the community.
  • Practice interviewing – have answers to commonly asked questions, explain why you are a perfect fit for the job based on their needs.
  • Be positive – people want to hire optimistic, upbeat, enthusiastic employees.

How many jobs should I be applying for?
It is important to present yourself professionally at all stages in the job hunting process.  Apply for as many interesting jobs as you want, just be sure that you aren’t taking on so much you can’t be professional.
What job titles should an MPA student be considering?
Job title is irrelevant. Look for jobs that interest you in an organization/community that are a good match for your personal and professional goals.

The Transition

One day you’re a student and one day you’re a gainfully employed City employee, what changed?
While a student I worked full-time, so not a whole lot changed.  I do remember after graduating how happy I was that there was time to read what actually interested me!
What skills do you rely on most to be successful in your job?

  • Communication – Soft skills can make or break you.  You can be the best technical person around, but will have a hard time achieving your goals if people find it frustrating to work with you.
  • Prioritization – there are always more things to do than time to do them in. Prioritizing well keeps the focus on the most important tasks for that day, week, month, etc.
  • Keep your commitments – Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. If priorities change, keep people informed.

Practical experiences vs. academic experiences.  
The best work projects have been those that are way out of my comfort zone.  This includes projects that are cross-departmental or cross-jurisdictional, focused on things that I previously knew nothing about.  These have given me the opportunity to develop my technical knowledge and soft skills.
One of the best, most informative courses from my MPA program was taught by a (now retired) City Manager. He brought in local government professionals from cities, special districts, state agencies, etc. to speak about their background, work experiences, and most challenging projects. Technically speaking, budget and human resources courses have been the most valuable.

Supplemental Reading

Trackdown Management – California’s Assistant To the City Manager’s
City of Dublin announces changes in City Management
Cal-ICMA Coaching Corner Overview

“Assistant To” Archives

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