Julie Underwood (LinkedIn and Twitter) is the assistant city manager in Daly City, CA. Previously, Julie served as the Shoreline, WA city manager.
By Julie Underwood
Personal circumstances led me to close a significant professional chapter in my life as my husband accepted a position at Google in Silicon Valley. I came to the City of Shoreline, Washington 11 years ago as the assistant city manager and spent the last two and half years as city manager, but now it was time for me to leave.
This article aims to describe what my last 60 days at Shoreline was like, including how I prepared for my departure, and some of my thoughts about moving on.
As I was preparing to leave, I found myself constantly reflecting on my time at the City. In fact, I found myself contemplating these questions:
- What impact have I had on the community and organization?
- Will my vision and initiatives for the organization continue?
- What are my most memorable moments at the City?
- What have I learned in this experience?
I’ll admit, I wasn’t ready to go. There were so many more things that I wanted to do!
On the bright side, when you’re leaving your job it’s an opportunity to clean your office. I had a lot of materials and files that I had kept and created over the years. It was fortuitous that as I was going through my stack of ICMA PM magazines that I had kept, I came across the December 2010 issue with the cover article titled, “The Good Exit: Do you have an exit strategy to set into action when you’re ready to leave?” written by Ken Hampian. This article got me to look ahead.
A Time to Look Ahead
The City Council appointed the assistant city manager as the interim city manager, which provided a sense of stability for the organization, especially in this time of transition.
Transition Plan for the City
I worked with the assistant city manager to create a table of contents for an orientation binder for the next person who would serve in this role. We also outlined all of the significant projects and ongoing responsibilities that were handled by the City Manager’s Office. The Council wanted to have a concrete list of projects and responsibilities that were on our plates in the short and intermediate term.
Recruitment of the Next Manager
I worked with the Council to identify a recruiter that would work with them to develop a profile and selection process. The Council needed to determine how extensive of an interview process they wanted – the more extensive, the more time it would take to make the official appointment.
- Did the Council want a formal citizen committee, which they appointed?
- If a committee, would they seek volunteers through an application submission process or would they hand pick citizens?
- Or did they prefer an informal “meet and greet” at an open citywide reception?
- Would the Leadership Team (department directors) be part of the interview process?
- Would an additional employee team interview the candidates?
Ultimately, these were questions that the Council would resolve with the recruiter. As the outgoing manager, I would serve as an information resource for possible candidates who were interested in the position. In the end, I did talk with a few interested candidates who reached out to me. Beyond this, I did not play an active role in the recruitment. (Update: Debbie Tarry unanimously approved as new Shoreline City Manager)
This was quite an exciting and emotional time for me. Since I provided a 60-day notice, there was plenty of time for staff, the Council and community to process my departure. Admittedly, I had a difficult time letting go of particular aspects of my job, especially if it related to the City’s long-term vision. I was so committed and passionate about our vision that it was difficult not to see myself as part of it. I continued to say, “When we do this or when we do that.” And while I eventually transitioned to saying, “When you do this,” it required a conscious effort to separate myself from Shoreline’s future.
There is a piece of Hampian’s article that I appreciated reading which prepared me for what I was experiencing – that inevitable loss of relevance. As the organization prepares for your departure, they will begin to incrementally turn to the interim city manager for direction and leadership, as they should. I even did this as we had to make last minute budget decisions, and I didn’t want to ignore the fact that she would be responsible for delivering the budget after my departure. My ego had to accept that I would no longer be the city manager.
The Future Awaits!
I also took time to think about my future. What would I do next? Naturally, I had quite a few people assume that I would become a stay at home mom. I’m excited that I have a lot of options to consider, including finding another city manager position, working as an assistant or in another position, consulting, or even taking time off to be a stay at home parent.
As I was leaving for California, I needed to get the word out to as many people as possible that I would be actively looking for a new position. I emailed my press release announcement to my professional network and subsequently made contacts in the California area that I would follow up with once there.
My resume also needed updating. This provided another opportunity to look back on my accomplishments and contributions. In addition, I connected with recruiters and started to receive emails and texts for job postings.
Value Time Off
Throughout this process the one piece of advice that I continue to get from colleagues and friends is to enjoy and treasure this time off – I may never get it again. So taking their advice to heart, I’ve changed my perspective and see this as a unique opportunity. I’ve been able to spend more time with my three sons and husband, and I finally have time to return to Facebook and connect with old friends, and get on Twitter and other social media outlets. I also have time to catch up on my reading, and health and fitness.
I recently read on Twitter a quote from Warren Buffet, “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” While I don’t know how my future will shape out, I do know that my past has given me amazing professional experiences and long-lasting friendships. Now my future awaits!