Mary Furtado, Catawba County, North Carolina

Posted on August 12, 2014

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Ben McCready, Rock Island (IL) assistant to the city manager, adds to the ongoing series on assistant and deputy city and county managers by profiling the Assistant County Manager in Catawba County, NC.

Background Check

Connect: LinkedIn

Catawba County’s Assistant County Manager Mary Furtado holds a degree in Philosophy and Anthropology from Hamilton College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Arizona State University. She began her career with Sarasota County in Florida where she transition from ICMA Management Fellow to Policy and Program Consultant, Strategic Planner, and Executive Director of Strategic Operations.

imagesAfter seven years of serving Sarasota County, Furtado accepted her current position as Assistant County Manager in Catawba County, North Carolina. Prior to pursuing a career in local government, Furtado gained valuable public sector experience as a Grant Evaluator and Research Assistant with the Charleston County School District in South Carolina.

Furtado has had a breadth of experiences during her career. She has been responsible for grant management, analyzing demographic data, evaluating legislation, analyzing economic impact of businesses and developments, as well as managing the strategic planning cycle. In addition to her work place duties Furtado has been an advocate for aspiring professionals, facilitating an ongoing dialogue about the challenge of attracting qualified professionals to local government careers. Her efforts have directly addressed the issue of how younger employees will gain responsibility and build the necessary experience to advance.

Background Check on the Catawba County

Connect: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube

You will find Catawba County among the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills located in the western portion of North Carolina. Home to over 155,000 residents, its largest city Hickory has just over 40,000 residents. Don’t be fooled by this scenic county’s rural character; it’s home to a series of NASCAR drivers, Tori Amos,  Chris Hughes (a Facebook co-founder) and baseball fans may recognize world series pitcher Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants.  You’ll also be happy to know that it adopted the County Manager form of government in 1937. To this day the County is led by five County Commissioners elected on an at large basis. If you want to delve into some Catawba County metrics, take a look at the Performance Dashboard for more information.

Lightning Round

First concert you attended:

U2 with Primus and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy as opening acts

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…

Hike the Appalachian Trailrun

The TV show Parks and Rec – good or bad for government?

Good – there’s a moral at the end of every episode that local government professionals just want to make their communities better, which is true!

Best restaurant in Catawba County: Hatch Sandwich Bar

Dream job as a child:

Veterinarian – ironically, I went in a totally different direction with my own career but married one, as a consulation prize.

Your ultimate mix tape.

Something that brings the funk, and hits a few of my favorite genres – bluegrass, jam bands, reggae, soul, classic rock, etc.

Longest public meeting you’ve been a part of?

Board of Commissioners’ meeting (in my previous community) that had a public hearing on long-range land use plan.  The meeting went from 9:00 a.m. to sometime after 9:00 that night.

Book you are currently reading: “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

Q & A with Mary

ASU pub affairs

Your first local government job:

Site supervisor and grant evaluator for an after-school program in Charleston County School District in Charleston, SC

Three professional accomplishments that you are most proud of:

Having spent the majority of my professional career working for 2 extremely progressive local government organizations, both of which are focused on continuous improvement and innovation.  (At this point, I’m batting 1000!)338c597baf2b87278317a79650d738e3_533x288

(This item relates to one of my answers for the next question.)  Adoption of Food & Farm Sustainability Plan – this plan, which was derivedfrom a public engagement process, will serve as the foundation for transforming the local food economy and preserving a critical piece of Catawba County’s heritage.  Establishment of a strong base on which to build is an important accomplishment with the possibility of creating a lasting and sustained impact on the physical and economic health of the Catawba County community.

In Sarasota County, being part of a team that weathered a pretty intense fiscal crisis in terms of budget shortfalls / structural deficit that resulted in minimal service reductions.  This took creativity and a commitment to being open to trying new things that ultimately benefited the citizens of Sarasota County.

Tell us about three projects that you are currently working on.

9723af777b12f1536a79c7519a72a9f7_XLOne project I’m currently working on involves strengthening the local food economy here in Catawba County.  With a strong community heritage of farming and agricultural, Catawba County has a lot of potential to increase the sustainability and self-sufficiency of the local food system.  With the main objectives of the initiative being to sustain agricultural land in Catawba County, recruiting younger farmers and providing tools for farm transitioning, and ensuring local food sustainability by developing and marketing a  “Farm-to-Fork” initiative that we have branded Eat, Drink, and Be Local, this project excites me because it could really transform our County and region into one known for supporting local food producers and taking responsibility for ensuring the availability of fresh, nutritious, and locally grown fruits and vegetables for our citizens.  The benefits of promoting the “grow local” movement expand beyond the economic realm, into the environmental, health, and social aspects of building community.  I personally believe in this project, so it’s easy to put my energies into it.

1660535_10152098547342211_261085593_nAnother project that I’m working on involves strengthening the County’s community engagement and outreach efforts aimed at keeping citizens informed about County programs and services and inviting them to enter into the civic dialog about what they want our community to look like, now and in the future.  Moving beyond the traditional communications avenues (like newsletters and public meetings) towards true 2-way communication is important to me because it appeals to the public servant in me: we are here to serve our citizens, and in order to do that most effectively, we have to understand their perspectives and actually form relationships with them.  This notion is at the heart of local government, and it’s a motivator for me.

Last, I’m working with the Tax Office to implement the results of a LEAN process improvement initiative focused on the County’s delinquent collection procedures.  This is an important project because it’s focused on 2 core values of the organization – customer service and efficiency – and also because it has potential positive revenue implications in terms of improving the County’s delinquent tax collection rate.  I enjoy process improvement initiatives because the whole notion of leaving things in a better state than when I found them is one of the things that drew me into local government in the first place.

Give us three tips for succeeding as an Assistant County Manager.

Ask questions.  No one comes into a role understanding how to do every aspect of the job.  Relying on a propensity for being inquisitive, curious, and open to new ways of doing things is one way to add value from the get-go.

Never underestimate the power of forming strong relationships with people at all levels of the organization.  This is critical in ensuring that you stay in touch with the culture of the organization and the community and aren’t befallen by “the emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, which is when a leader’s perception of reality doesn’t align with what he or she thought it to be.

Follow the doctrine of “No surprises.”  Don’t let your manager be surprised by anything happening in your departments, and drive that same expectation into your direct reports so that you aren’t surprised by things, either.  It’s a lot easier to manage issues or situations proactively, when you knew they were coming, rather than getting caught on your heels and finding yourself in reactive mode.

If you were picking a starting five for those who assisted you in your career, who would be on the team?

Dave Bullock, current Town Manager for the Town of Longboat Key, FL and former Deputy County Administrator of Sarasota County, FL

Jim Ley, former County Administrator of Sarasota County, FL

Tom Lundy, current County Manager of Catawba County, NC

Dr. John Pickering, President of the Commonwealth Center for Hig-Performance Organizations, Inc.

Hugh Henkel, former Strategic Operations Manager for Sarasota County, FL

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?

lifeworkintegration-525x219Just do your best to be present – both mentally and physically – in either place when it matters most.  There will be times when you’re at work and you have to deal with home issues that are more important, and vice versa.  I oftentimes tell my husband that if I’m home and worrying about something work-related, I’m really not home, so it’s better to just go ahead and own it.  That works in both directions.

(Complete the sentence) Local government is……The perfect profession for someone who wants to make a difference in communities and who doesn’t want a career with a predictable day-in, day-out routine.

ELGL is hosting its second annual conference in October, help us out by suggesting three topics of speakers we should include.

  • Network-based governance: how to lead and influence when you don’t have formal authority or you’re not “in control”
  • Managing up – how to do it effectively
  • Preparing yourself for the next level – how to continue to grow where you are while you’re waiting for your chance to advance in the hierarchy.

If we ever encounter you on an interview panel, give us a few specific tips for making a good impression.


1. Share something interesting about yourself – don’t be afraid to let the panel see what motivates or interests you.  There is nothing worse than a sterile interview where the candidate spends an hour or more with the panel but doesn’t give anyone a glimpse of who he or she really is.

2. Do your research about the organization and the position and ask questions.  It is surprising how many candidates come to interviews without having done basic research about the organization.  Also – the type of questions you ask provides insight into how serious you are about the role and whether you’re truly testing for rightness of fit from your perspective.

3. Don’t be shy about touting your strong points and actively selling yourself.  We’re commonly trained to be modest / humble in sharing our accomplishments, but that doesn’t have to contradict head-on with the objective of a job interview, which is to show yourself as the right fit for a position you want to land.

What does local government management look like in 2020?

More diversity in organizational and community leadership, in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age, and – most importantly – perspective.

Citizens are working across traditional boundaries to solve problems – there are very few “government problems” or “private sector problems.”   Instead, there are community problems that require a broad range of players to get involved and contribute to solving.

Technology continues to transform the way we do business, from the perspectives of both transparency and citizen participation in government.  The level of accountability is high, as is (hopefully) the commensurate level of public trust bestowed upon local government leaders.

Finally, would you encourage your children to consider local government as a career?

Absolutely.  I can’t think of a more noble calling and would be proud of my kids if they felt compelled to step into the ring and be part of the solution rather than standing around the edges complaining about how things could be better.

Supplemental Reading

Catawba County names new Assistant County Manager453

Member Spotlight: Mary Furtado

Mary Furtado ’00 Is Assistant County Manager

Crazy, Exhilarating, Educational in Catawba County (NC)

Life, Well Run | Becoming a Professional Manager

NC: Tom Lundy, Catawba County, County Manager


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