Growing Up in City Hall with Jackie Schwerm, City of Eden Prairie, MN

Posted on April 10, 2014

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This is the latest post in a new series about growing up with a parent who is also a City Manager. 

Jackie Schwerm


Senior Management Analyst at City of Eden Prairie, Minnesota

Connect: LinkedIn

Jackie grew up in Shoreview, Minnesota, a suburb north of the Twin Cities. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in the small town of St. Peter, Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Honors Political Science and Communication Studies. She has been involved in public service and leadership roles her entire life. During graduate school, Jackie completed an internship with the city of Edwardsville, KS.

39cdac8Jackie presented, “A New Wave: Conservative Feminism and Women’s Interest Groups in the 21st Century,” at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, March 2011.

Terry Schwerm (Jackie’s dad) has been the city manager of Shoreview, MN since 1993. He also has served as the Minnetonka (MN) assistant city manager and Glencoe (IL) administrative assistant. Terry received a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Gerald Schwerm (Jackie’s grandfather) was the city manager of Brown Deer, WI for many years. Link: Mostly Work, Little Play For Youngest Village Manager .

Q & A with Jackie


Describe what was it like growing up with a parent who was a city manager? Advantages? Disadvantages?

Growing up with a parent who is a City Manager was a fun, but unique experience. I always thought my dad’s job was really cool, but that was partially because Shoreview City Hall is connected to their Community Center, which has a giant waterpark!

I don’t think I truly understood what my dad’s job encompassed until I started graduate school for public administration and began interning with various cities, although I had a (somewhat) decent understanding once I got to high school. I always enjoyed visiting my dad at his work, and going to take-your-daughter-to-work days was always fun. At one take-your-daughter-to-work day, I got a street sign made with my name on it! Also, his position requires a Rotary Membership, and the Arden Hills/Shoreview Rotary always runs the BINGO tent at Shoreview’s annual “Slice of Shoreview

(Editor’s Note: You mean all council meetings aren’t this exciting.)

Kidding aside, there was (and still is) a huge sense of pride in having a dad as a City Manager, although I think a lot of kids have pride in what their parents do. I also have a sense of pride in my mom being a nurse—something that I knew I would never be able to do.  In regards to city management, though, while I may never have been able to exactly explain what my dad did until I was older, I did know that his work made a difference. I grew up always knowing that Monday evenings were nights where my mom and I could have “slumber parties” since my dad was at council meetings. Sometimes my mom and I would try to watch them on TV, but they were honestly so boring, that would typically last a couple minutes. I would just say “goodnight” to my dad on the TV, and go to bed.

Probably the most annoying part of it all, was that a trip to Target was never just a trip to Target. My dad would always run into someone he knew whether it be from a committee or just a resident who wanted to stop and ask questions. I used to be a little annoyed, but then it turned into a game…”how many people are we going to run into today.” Now, I’m just used to it.

City management is a transient profession. How many times did you move as a child? 

download (2)We have been very fortunate because I can only remember one move in my entire childhood, when I was four years old. My dad had previously been the Assistant City Manager in the City of Minnetonka, MN, and applied for the Shoreview, MN manager position in 1993. He has been the City Manager of Shoreview ever since.

He has been very lucky to have a supportive council and fantastic coworkers in Shoreview that make him love his job. I do remember being told that I shouldn’t expect to complete high school in the same district that I started kindergarten in, but I was lucky enough to not only complete high school, but college and graduate school while still going back and visiting my parents in Shoreview.

How did having a parent who is a city manager influence your career choice? Was there pressure to follow in their footsteps? 

Now is probably a good time to note that my grandfather (my dad’s dad) was Village Manager in Brown Deer, Wisconsin. (Editor’s Note: Here’s the proof: Mostly Work, Little Play for Youngest Village Manager.)

My dad always says that he had no interest in going into city management, but as he started taking more classes and learning more, it kind of fell into his lap. My story is a little different—I never discounted a career in city government, but also considered different career options as well. One thing I always knew, however, was that I wanted to do “public service.” Both my parents worked to instill in me the value of public service from a very young age. My mom is a oncology nurse, and also volunteered a lot for my school, was my Girl Scout leader, etc. On top of his job, my dad was a member of the Rotary and my basketball coach for 10 plus years.  Through both my parents, I was always encouraged to volunteer and help others, and I think that resonated into my career choice.

While there clearly wasn’t pressure to follow in his footsteps, there was definitely influence. How many high-school and college students know what city managers do? Not many. I think just growing up knowing at least some general information about what a city manager does, did help influence my career choice.

My original plan after college was actually to go into “Teach for America.” Without going into too much detail, they have a very long, comprehensive application and interview process, and once I made it to the final round of interviews, I didn’t really start considering a back-up plan. It wasn’t until I was turned down from Teach for America in November of my senior year of college, that I really started considering a back-up plan. I knew I was going to go to graduate school, but I wasn’t sure what to go into. My first thought was public policy, but as I looked more closely at the public policy graduate classes, I realized that it really wasn’t for me. It was then that my dad recommended I take a look at public administration programs. I started to do that, and found that the classes were right up my alley, and that a public administration degree afforded me a lot of opportunity.

Did you learn any lessons from their career or experience? If so, what are they?

tumblr_m9fp59CwzA1rynk4uo1_500I learned to not take your work home with you or take things too personal.  I think part of the reason that my dad was such a great father to me growing up was that when he left the office for the day, he was coming home to his wife and daughter, and he took his mind off of work. While this isn’t possible every day, and sometimes he would talk about things that happened during the day, when he was home from work, my mom and I (and TV sitcoms) were what he focused on. While my dad loves his job, he loves being a father and husband more and always made my mom and me his top priority.

I also learned that it is okay to not know everything. The Minnesota network of local government professionals is very strong, and it is okay to ask for help.

Finally, I learned not to expect compliments and credit for everything you do. While it is always nice to be told “good job” or “thanks for doing this,” that doesn’t always happen in this field. City Managers typically work behind the scenes, and are not in this field to receive credit for the work they do.

Talk about your career path. Has it been similar to your dad’s?

I’m taking a somewhat different career path than my dad’s. First, his graduate degree was in business administration, not public administration, so that is one difference. He started off in a management analyst type position, moved to assistant to the city manager and assistant city manager positions in Minnetonka, MN, and after about 10-12 years in those positions, became City Manager of Shoreview, where he has been ever since.

In some ways, starting off in an analyst position is a similarity, however my position is a lot more focused in Human Resources, although I do some projects for the City Manager and am managing our performance measures, too. I know that like my dad, I want to work my way up through positions, and not jump into the City Manager role until I feel ready.

Did you have a professional relationship with your parent? Do you exchange work related advice?

This is an interesting question—I’ve always had an extremely close relationship with my dad, which probably stems from being an only child. Even before I went into this field, my dad was always my top supporter, and would have been a great mentor and role model regardless of what profession I went in to. That said, I think my mom would definitely argue that we have a professional relationship—anytime the three of us are in the car together or out to dinner, I feel bad because of course we talk about our work experiences with each other—sometimes leaving my mom out of the conversation. She’s previously joked that when it was just my dad, she could nod and smile when he talked about work, but now that we’re both in this field, she can’t get away with that anymore.

Anyways, my dad and I are both learning from each other constantly, which is awesome. I know he sees and hears about the work I am doing, and thinks about how can he be a more effective mentor to our generation as a whole, and thinks more about what projects he can delegate to the Assistant to the City Manager where he works. It’s fun, because if I ever need advice, I have a great resource to go to, who I know I can trust, outside of my city. He was also a great resource when determining what graduate school to attend—I asked him to step out of his “dad shell” and assist me from a City Manager perspective. First and foremost though, he is my dad, and that relationship supersedes any professional relationship we may have.

What does your parent think of you following in their footsteps?

My dad has always been supportive of whatever I career path I wanted to go down. He used to joke that he “failed as a father” because I went into this field, but I know he is really proud of me and the work I am doing. We are very similar, and to both of us, public service is something we are passionate about.

How do you describe your parent’s job to friends? ‘City manager’ has to be one of the most confusing jobs to explain to non-government folks.

I honestly had no idea how to describe my dad’s job to my friends. All I knew, was that he was not a City Planner (although I didn’t know what a City Planner did, either, to be honest). Once, when I was probably five or six, we took a family vacation to Disney World, and went to the Blizzard Beach waterpark there. I remember my dad taking pictures of some of the water activities and floaties, etc., and before I knew it, the Shoreview Community Center had some of the same equipment. I guess for a while, I thought my dad’s job was to design pools.

Once I knew that being a City Manager wasn’t just picking out pool toys and building parks and fitness centers, I would explain it as managing the day-to-day operations of the City, and taking the direction of the mayor and council to set policy. To this day, though, some of my college friends, however, still think my dad “runs” the city and think he is a mayor or see it as a political position, which it is most definitely not.

What advice can you give to kids whose parent is a city manager?

I don’t really have advice for kid’s whose parent is a city manager, and would echo what Mary Van Milligan said in her recent interview. Instead, I think my advice would be more geared towards city managers who have kids: Don’t push your kids to go into the same field as you—oftentimes that pushes them the other way. Instead, work to instill in your kids the value of public service—whether it be volunteering, being in scouts, helping others, etc. —that is what is going to take them far in life.

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