Check out our crowdsourced resources for local government wildfire response.

Registration is now open for #ELGL20: Local Gov Oktoberfest! Register today!

Podcast: Growing Up in City Hall with Meredith Reynolds and Jan Reynolds

Posted on September 11, 2020


Growing Up in City Hall - GovLove
Meredith ReynoldsJan Reynolds
Meredith Reynolds
Park Planning &
Partnership Manager
City of Long Beach, California
Bio | LinkedIn | Twitter
Jan Reynolds
Former City Manager
City of Hanford, California

City management as a family business. Meredith Reynolds, Park Planning & Partnership Manager for the City of Long Beach, California, and Jan Reynolds, Retired City Manager for the City of Hanford, California, joined the podcast to talk about their careers in local government. Meredith shared what she learned from growing up with a father who was a City Manager and how it has impacted her career choices. Jan shared what he learned in his career and his advice for people that want to become City Managers.

Host: Kent Wyatt

Subscribe:Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyRSS Feed


Learn More

Growing Up City Hall

Hanford City Manager Jan Reynolds. City manager tenure: What’s average?

New Member Profile: Meredith Reynolds

Making The Most Of Reassignment


Episode Transcript

Message

Gemütlichkeit, Gemütlichkeit, Gemütlichkeit. ELGL’s annual conference is all about a state of warm friendliness and good cheer. Hence the Gemütlichkeit theme. We’re doing an Oktoberfest themed ELGL conference, and for the whole month of October ELGL members will be gathering virtually to learn from one another and connect. You’ll be able to customize your registration and pick the sessions that most interest you or work best with your schedule. We have a session every day in the month of October. It’s going to be great. Plus all sessions will be recorded for later viewing. To get you even more excited, here are a couple of our awesome sessions. We’ve got a session on Nudges, Behavioral Insights and Other Ways to Impact Change, Integrating Racial Equity into Government, Creative Community Engagement While Social Distancing, plus many, many more. You can learn more at the ELGL website and register for what will be the best conference of the year by going to ELGL20.org. That’s ELGL20.org to learn more.

Kent Wyatt

From ELGL headquarters in Westland, Oregon, this is Gov love, a podcast about local government. I’m Kent Wyatt, co-founder of ELGL, and Communications Manager for the City of Tigard. We have two guests with us today who will introduce themselves shortly. But first I want to provide some background on today’s episode. I find this topic particularly fascinating because I experienced it. Our two guests today, Jan and Meredith are a father daughter combination. Meredith grew up in a household of a City Manager, which is similar to my upbringing. My dad was the City Manager for 30 years or so in a number of cities, including Morganton, North Carolina, Greenville, North Carolina, Fairfax, Virginia, Wilson, North Carolina to name a few. So we spent, I spent many a days at City Hall and also many vacations at ICMA conferences. So I’m excited to talk to Jan and Meredith about their experiences and kind of what they’ve, what they’ve learned from each other, and what’s, what’s next in their journey. So, normally what we would do is, I would introduce our two guests, but I figured today it would be appropriate if we let them introduce each other. So Meredith, do you want to give us the background on your dad?

Meredith Reynolds

Sure. Morning, everyone. I’m Meredith Reynolds. I am the Park Planning and Partnerships Manager for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine for the City of Long Beach. I’d like to introduce my dad, Jan Reynolds. My dad is a retired city manager, as Kent mentioned. I’ve known him my whole life. [laughter] And some things that stand out about my dad is that he has a lot of hobbies. He likes to golf, he likes to fish with his brothers, and he is an incredible woodworker. So we have many a woodworking project around the house. He went to school at Chico State and has worked his way up in public service. And when I came into the world, he was the Assistant City Manager for the City of Hanford. And as I grew up, became the City Manager for the City of Hanford. With that, I will turn it over to my dad.

Kent Wyatt

Well one follow up on that Meredith. You mentioned woodworking. Is he a Ron Swanson type with the woodworking?

Meredith Reynolds

No, not necessarily building furniture like our dear friend from Parks and Rec Ron Swanson. More in the turning of bowls and other sort of craftware on a lathe, experimenting with colors and types of wood and those sorts of things. I do think he would be a BFF of Ron Swanson, though.

Kent Wyatt

Oh, that’s really cool. Jan, you want to introduce the audience to your daughter Meredith?

Jan Reynolds

Yes. Thanks for having me, Kent. Meredith is my oldest daughter. We have two daughters. She was born in San Diego when I worked down in San Diego, and when I talk about my career, you’ll see that’s where it actually started in local government. But Meredith was a, just an inquisitive kid, always. She is, she’s like a little sponge, but she hears things she thinks and you can you can just see the wheels turning of her thinking, and she’s been that way since she was one years old, all the way up till now and it’s been a joy. She’s been a good kid. And I’m real proud of her, of what she’s done in her career so far, and I think she’ll have lots of other good years ahead of her.

Kent Wyatt

So you raised two daughters, is that correct?

Jan Reynolds

That’s correct.

Kent Wyatt

So I am a dad of two girls. They are 10 and 8 years old. Do you want to give me any parenting advice?

Jan Reynolds

[Laughter] 10 and 8, Whoo. You’re just coming right around the corner to have some real, real fun times with your kids. That was, well even when they were younger, but that’s the time that they’re even more inquisitive and want to try new things and want to spread their wings and spreading the wings is always a an interesting process. But I think you’ll find that even more challenging and more enjoyable as your as your girls did in the next four or five years.

Kent Wyatt

That we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over COVID. So and with virtual school starting I think that will continue. One other follow up I had for you on on this, clearly Meredith turned out in the right direction by heading into local government. What about your other daughter?

Jan Reynolds

Our other daughter is a physician’s assistant, a PA, and she works in Las Vegas. And both of them are real good friends. They talk a lot, probably almost every day or text and do those kinds of things. But they’re they’re two different children. Not only in personality and, but the one thing they both have, is just that internal  inquisitiveness and drive to find out what makes things work and the idea of just making the world a better place. They have always been that way and that’s that’s the one way that they are so much alike.

Meredith Reynolds

And Kent, I think my sister Lindsey, she takes probably after my mom more in terms of her career leanings. My mom was a licensed clinical social worker. She’s retired now, but worked in public health and the public health field for a long time. So I think both both of us girls kind of took after our parents in that way, but definitely a public sector household.

Kent Wyatt

Yes, those are both both great careers. Meredith, if you had to describe your your dad’s parenting style, what would you say?

Meredith Reynolds

Um, I mean, very patient very fair. And let me kind of do a lot of trying things and failing but you know, there was always the like you had you had to kind of get back up and keep going. And that lets you, you know, for the for for myself, who’s very curious and inquisitive as my dad mentioned, you know, being able to figure things out on your own was very helpful. Both my parents were always very supportive so that you know that that concept of you could be whatever you want, you could do whatever you want, and having kind of no limits in your drive or inspiration was probably really, you know, kind of looking back was really helpful. Because you could, you didn’t have any any kind of blinders or limitations.

Kent Wyatt

That’s great. Well, let’s, let’s jump into some short questions. And then we’ll get a little bit more into both your careers and some of the takeaways But I did some research, basically, searched Meredith on ELGL. There’s been some features and some writing she’d done for us. So I have a little bit of an idea of some of her interests. So let’s let’s go through this. All I’ll throw out some topics and just give us your answer for for the best, best answer for the question here. So first one is favorite National Park. Meredith, you want to start us off?

Meredith Reynolds

Sure. I think for a natural wonder, my favorite is Devils Postpile. That is a really interesting kind of land formation, that’s these columns up in Mammoth Lakes. And then probably for history its Gettysburg. And that’s kind of a pivotal moment in our country’s history. And fun fact, it just so happens to have two streets that intersect one is Meredith Avenue, and one is Reynolds Avenue. So those were always kind of fun.

Kent Wyatt

I saw you post that the other day. I think it was on Twitter or Instagram. I did a double take because I wasn’t sure what was happening there.

Meredith Reynolds

[Laughter] Yeah, it’s it’s, uh, you know, the names of generals that were in, participated in the different battles of Gettysburg. But it’s always fun when you have a name like Meredith. You don’t see that name too often. So to see it, along with your last name in a historic place in a park is kind of cool.

Kent Wyatt

That was super cool. That was cool.

Meredith Reynolds

What do you think, dad?

Jan Reynolds

Yeah, interesting. Meredith and I went, when I went to the ICMA conference in Pittsburg, and gosh I can’t think, must have been late 90s or so. Meredith went with me. And we happened to afterwards travel over to Gettysburg. And I think we have a picture of her standing by one of the great street signs there that that show that intersection. So I think my favorite national parks got to be Yellowstone. There’s just so many different parts of it. I’ve been there many, many times. And I think every time you go there you see something different and the contact with nature is can be so different. All within one Park.

Kent Wyatt

Yep. We went to Crater Lake this summer for the first time which is in Central Oregon, which is a super cool spot if you are ever in the area to check out. It’s the deepest lake in the country. And it’s just super blue and clear. So a great spot. Okay, what’s on your, Meredith, I think you’re a music fan or have some, have some playlist or recommendations that you might want to give us. What’s on your latest playlist?

Meredith Reynolds

Oh, yeah. I think my my quarantine inspiration is a band called Johnny Swim. Umm, they’ve been doing a series called Songs With Strangers, where they meet their fans virtually online and they write songs with them and produce them all in 24 hours. So that’s produced some pretty cool stories and some pretty cool songs. And I’m super into the return of the Killers and the Cold War Kids. They have some new albums out this week. My favorite is Cold War Kids cover George Michaels freedom, only with strings and acapella. So that’s pretty cool.

Kent Wyatt

I would recommend the new Killers album. I have that I have listened to that too. And that’s really good. I think it’s a really good album. Jan, what do you what is on your playlist? Or what’s, what are the songs that kind of get you going?

Jan Reynolds

Yeah, being a teenager college student in the 60s pretty much have to have like people like Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, of course the Stones. That’s kind of my genre back in, back in the 60s.

Kent Wyatt

I’ve seen, I’ve seen Springsteen many a times. I think it’s probably the best. He put on the best show of any concert I’ve been to, still even a few years ago when I saw them. So those are solid solid picks. The next question I’m very curious about because I was thinking about how I would answer this for my family. What was your most memorable family vacation, Meredith?

Meredith Reynolds

You know, we did a lot of camping, when we were, when I was younger, as family. So it was, you know, my family, my uncle’s, my uncle’s family. And we would go to all kinds of different places here in California, and probably other states too, right dad? And we would, you know, camp for for a week or whatever. And this was, you know, playing in the river and, you know, floating around in a lake, fishing, you know, and this was no, this was no glamping. This was, you know, the, the solar hot water shower. You know, and sleeping in a tent kind of a thing, which was a really cool experience to, you know, to see the outdoors that way. It was really neat. And then I did another road trip with my mom and my sister. I don’t know, probably when I was 10 or so throughout the desert southwest, and I definitely wanted to go see four corners in Utah, where you can put a hand and a foot in all four states. And so I have a photo of that as a kid. And I remember, you know, kind of planning that trip with my mom, and then actually getting to go see something that I wanted to see and it turned out to be really cool. So those are some of the things that that were memorable for me.

Kent Wyatt

Cool. Jan, what sticks out to you?

Jan Reynolds

I think one of the, one of the times we took the girls to Hawaii. Gosh, they must have been, I think Meredith must have been about 10. And Lindsey was probably about seven or eight. And I had a friend, the girl that used to work for me years ago. And she lived in Hawaii. So we saw her and but I can remember particularly scuba dive, well not scuba diving but snorkeling with the girls and both of them, they swim like fish. I kind of swim like a rock, [laughter] but seeing all of these just amazing fish and creatures underneath the sea, and we would go out for an hour or two just snorkeling and I had trouble keeping up with them that it was a really good time and they they just really enjoyed it. It’s a real something. At that age just open their eyes to just a whole another part of the world that most people don’t see.

Kent Wyatt

Well, so let’s let’s end the intro questions on a positive one. What’s been the best thing about 2020 so far? Jan you want to start us off with that one?

Jan Reynolds

You know I, Meredith and I was talking about this earlier and I was like uhh 2020, what a what a tough question for such a abnormal year. But thinking about it i, what i see more people coming together, particularly families and people spending time with their families and doing things like simple things just like out exercising and walking or jogging or riding bikes and this this whole idea of overcoming that initial kind of anger and frustration and all the things that came with having the kids at home and not being able to go to work and you know, wearing a mask and washing your hands, people moving beyond that, and kind of moving towards a little bit more optimism and kind of going back to some of those traditions that make family stronger. And I see that a lot in the neighborhood that I live in. And I see it a lot with the people that I know have come so much closer, whether it’s their grand kids or their children. And those those tight family values, I can see them coming out more and more. So it’s something that is come of the many challenges that we face this year.

Kent Wyatt

Meredith, what’s been the best thing about 2020 for you so far?

Meredith Reynolds

You know, strange or not, one of the things that I really appreciate was my opportunity for reassignment at work. So I wrote about this in a previous ELGL Morning Buzz. I was reassigned pretty early on in the COVID pandemic, from the parks department to the health department. And my job was to support the mayor and Council’s desire to offer city testing sites that were not otherwise provided by the county or the state. So I was responsible for researching companies, you know, evaluating the test kit, science and technology and standing up testing sites for my city. And so it was a completely different learning opportunity that I otherwise would have not had the opportunity to participate in, if not for COVID. I think I shared that I’ve you know, learned way more about nasal pharyngeal swabs than I will ever need to know in my lifetime. [Laughter] But you know, learning a lot about the health department and my colleagues and making new friends, you know, we’re an organization with 5000 people and you don’t always get to interact with all of them. And so I got to learn about a whole new set of colleagues, which was great. So that for me, really kind of kept me focused and kept me kind of one foot in front of the other. And there’s a lot of other things that I am hopeful for, moving forward that will remain as a result of what we’ve had to do related to COVID. So meetings that could be an email, are now actually an email. We can telework and we have streamlined processes and electronic procedures that I know, I’ve been really interested in implementing for years, but there was always some reason or a variety of reasons why it wasn’t, you know, feasible or cost effective or whatever else. And we were really forced quickly to do a lot of that. So I hope a lot of those remain.

Kent Wyatt

Totally agree. I’ve had the same experience. Actually, both of your answers with the family part. I have a bike now and my kids and I have been on many a bike rides and then at work I’ve been working from home since March. And I’ve actually been more productive, I would say, than I am in the office. But, you know, I think one of the things for me is, one, at least in our community, community really values the government a lot more, because they did look to us and I think we were able to respond in a good manner. And I think internally, we’re a stronger team because we did rise to the occasion and yet, a lot of times mergers, unfortunately, it takes an emergency to, to create some things, some bonds like that. So there have been some positives, you know, along the way, obviously, what’s happened with the number of cases and deaths is horrible to watch. But I think both you guys hit it on the head for some of the some of the positives that have come out of that.

Jan Reynolds

Excuse me, I didn’t mean to interrupt. But lets hope that people learn from the, from our responses and what we just talked about, experiences that you know, you don’t have to wait for an emergency, you don’t have to be wait, you don’t have to wait to be forced to do these kinds of things. Look for the opportunities to do them, when it really makes a difference, not because you have to, but because it’s a better way to operate.

Kent Wyatt

I totally agree. I mean, one of the things is, this was just a small example. But I’ve always wanted to have a podcast for our city. And the COVID kind of gave me the opportunity to just go ahead and try it, because we were looking for other ways to get information out there. And also, like when our library shut down, we were able to have a pretty lengthy discussion on the podcast with our library director on like, what went behind, what, what was happening behind the scenes there and that decision making or are we we’ve talked to our EOC and like, let people in on the kind of what goes on there. So yeah, you’re totally right in seizing the opportunities and not necessarily waiting for the emergencies. I think that’s great advice for our listeners. Well, so let’s see what other great advice you guys have. I want to start with Jan. Can you just walk us through your career path and how you ended up in local government and ended up becoming a city manager?

Jan Reynolds

Yeah. Well, when I was in high school and then also in college, in summer times I worked for the city that I lived in Atwater and ran some softball and baseball programs for them. So that was kind of my initial exposure to local government, as well as when I was a senior they always did Student Government day, which was I found really interesting. But from there, when I was going to Chico State, I was involved in a housing program there. I was a Resident Advisor for a couple of years and then after I graduated, I became a head resident there in Chico for three years. And then I also helped out in different departments. I was the Dean of Student Affairs. From there, I received my Master’s in Public Administration at the same time I was working there and was still going to school. And my wife was working part time and we kind of had a deal that if I would, she would work while I got my master’s and then I would work when she got her master’s and I actually got a job at San Diego State as a Head Resident running a really large complex there. Did that for a couple years and then in the early 70s, mid 70s, came the layoffs and economic issues and I got laid off there at San Diego State. And about the same time the federal government was starting a program called CETA and I have been trying to, I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember what that stands for, but it’s basically a retraining program for people at government levels and I got hired by a city in San Diego County as a Management Analyst, and did that for a couple of years and then did some redevelopment work for them. And then I moved to another city in southern San Diego County and was a Personnel Analyst there for a couple, three, four years. And from there, I got an opportunity to move back to the Central Valley which were I was raised in the Central Valley of California, and as the Assistant City Manager, did that for about nine years and then became city manager there in Hanford and was the city manager there for about 18 years.

Kent Wyatt

That’s a long time for a city manager to be in one place.

Jan Reynolds

Yeah, it was and it was a community that when I moved there, it was 16,000 and when I left it was about 50 – 55,000.

Kent Wyatt

So on this career path where, where did having kids fall into that? Where were you living in and what was your job when you had you had your two daughters?

Jan Reynolds

When Meredith was born, I was a Personnel Analyst for the City of Chula Vista. And when she was about seven months old, I got the job in Hanford. And we moved there. And then once we got to Hanford, Meredith was about two, two and a half when Lindsay was born.

Meredith Reynolds

I grew up in Hanford my whole life.

Kent Wyatt

What’s, I want to hear about Meredith’s career, but I also am curious, Meredith, what do you remember from growing up, from growing up with a dad who’s a city manager? I mean, did you go to council meetings or were you there in his office? Like what what what are those memories that stick out to you?

Meredith Reynolds

Um, yeah, we went we went to his office a lot. One of the memories that I have was my dad always had cinnamon gum in his desk. [laughter] And so that was like the treat you got to go ask dad, if you could have that special piece of cinnamon gum. He would always say yes. And there was oh, you’ve always had like several packs of it in your desk. So I remember that. And, you know, for me, it seemed very, it didn’t seem this way at the time. But looking back, it was very much a small town. So you couldn’t really just go to the grocery store. If you were going to the grocery store with dad, you know, no fewer than six or seven people would stop and talk with him about you know, the mayor lived around the corner, I think the fire chief lived down, you know, a couple blocks over ,that kind of thing. So there were always, you know, the folks who would stop by and have conversations while dad was watering the lawn out front or something like that. So that that kind of small towns tight knit community, you know, was something that that I remember and Hanford has this really great, had this really great event, they still do it today called Thursday Night Market. Many communities have a, you know, community markets like this. And you could go and get fresh produce and hear live music, kind of in a cute little main street downtown. And it was a kind of thing where that’s, you know, another place where you got to see kind of my dad in action, you know, talking with people, you know, whether it’s council members or community members and kind of making your way through the market and picking up your, you know, weekly vegetables and fruits and that sort of thing. You know, were things that I remember distinctly that, you know, weren’t necessarily part of the formal job, but become, you know, because you’re always on and you’re always accessible, you know, I mean, it became part of our lifestyle.

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, I kind of have similar memories. And actually one of the reasons I’m in public service is just that memory of, I remember when my dad was leaving the City of Fairfax, he had been there probably close to 10 years and we were he was moved on to another gig and just being at the going away party and hearing, you know, hearing some of the conversations that he had with staff and like the genuine connectedness that was there. I feel like I can tell if somebody’s bs’ing and even at that age, and it was just really authentic and the fact that he was able to have such a positive impact not only on staff but community members who were there really is something that drove me and still drives me today. On the other hand, you know, I certainly saw some of the drawbacks, like we he was in places that had a difficult Council and Mayor. We also had I don’t know if you had this Meredith, but we had the calls in the middle of the night or calls at dinnertime about somebody’s garbage you didn’t get picked up and things that you don’t always expect. Did you get any of that in your childhood?

Meredith Reynolds

Yeah, from time to time or you know, when when we were old enough to you know, stay home, we would answer the phone and you know, behave ourselves and take a proper professional message, you know, for somebody who is calling, but I do I do remember there was a call in the middle of the night, I was in high school, and someone had had started a fire at at our high school. And we only had one high school in town. And so you know, it was hey, do you do you want to come with me and go see what happens? Stick by my side, follow all instructions from the fire chief. And I went, and it was really kind of eye opening to see that that level of destruction because that kind of thing doesn’t really happen or didn’t really happen in our town really up to that point. And that was kind of the one that I that I remember. Remember that dad?

Jan Reynolds

Yeah.

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, I remember like advice from my dad, one of the things he told us, I had three brothers and I was the youngest. And his big advice was don’t get arrested, which was his way of I think saying don’t embarrass me and don’t like cause me trouble by, you know, just stay out of trouble. So, which is a good reminder regardless of who your dad is to not get arrested, [laughter] but he definitely drove that point home a little bit. So Meredith, what was your path? How did you follow somewhat in your dad’s footsteps?

Meredith Reynolds

Um, you know, I think that was a pretty big influence in my career, as well as kind of that strong tie to the, to the outdoors, being a big influence in how I chose the actual areas of my work. So we spent a lot of time playing outside, playing sports. I mentioned camping, you know, visiting national parks. So a lot of those things were kind of pivotal to how I walked down my path. But at this point, I have about 15 years of experience across you know, budget development, program and project management, operations, strategic and land use planning community engagement, and the fields, they’ve really focused on our parks and recreation, community services and environmental sustainability. And some of these have been in, you know, California, one of California’s largest cities, and also in some of our more well run cities here in California, which I’m very privileged to be able to work in. And so that really kind of started with that inquisitive and curious nature. I was always wanting to know, like how things worked and what made people tick, or you know, how cities you know, put things together to make them work for their community. And it seemed to me, you know, going through school at a young age and participating in like student government and other types of of, you know, civic engagement that I might actually be good at this. And so public administration, was something that I pursued. I also did go to Chico State for my undergraduate degree. And I got a minor in Organizational Communication, because I could see, you know, how people interacted, the relationships that you built, and you know how you build trust and credibility and who holds the keys to decision making was something that would be useful in my career. So after undergraduate study, I went, I took a fellowship, choral fellowship in public affairs, and that was in San Francisco. And that is a nonprofit program that that rotates you through different sectors. So I worked assignments in government, nonprofit, labor unions, business, philanthropy, radio, agriculture, and that really just strengthened my resolve to work in local government because you could see how there was a direct impact on the local level. And that was kind of the closest you could get to impacting people’s daily lives. So from that fellowship, I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for my Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Management and I made that particular choice because of the technical, I wanted to be really well rounded. That was something my dad, and even our family really was focused on, is being well rounded and in terms of being a well rounded person and well rounded skills. And this was a technical program that was interdisciplinary, and they were all about using data to inform your decision makers or your decisions as a decision makers. And they had a really strong program that was also focused on sustainability. So that was kind of my first introduction to that. And then I knew the snow was not for me. I could not wear flip flops in the snow. That was a problem. [Laughter] And so I knew I wanted to come back to California. I got that experience. But, you know, I was really looking forward to coming back. And I was focused on local government management fellowship programs, because they kind of gave you a leg up in terms of your experience and you didn’t have to toil away you know as a aid and then an analyst, and then a management analyst, you know, at the various levels of local government. So I was accepted into the Long Beach Management Assistant Fellowship Program. And I was able to that as a has a rotational component as well. And I rotated through the the budget office, the city manager’s office, development services and planning and human resources and was able to work on these really high level, city wide priority projects as a part of that program, and after that was able to get picked up by development services as an administrative analyst. And so, I had the kind of high level priority projects, you know, perspective from my time during the rotations, but the analyst position really helped me gain those foundational skills, you know, how do you write a staff report? How do you fill out the purchasing paperwork? You know, who holds the decisions and the strings to things? You know, what do our administrative regulations say? And how do you get them to work for you. And so i was able to, to work through that and and some of our land use and planning, you know, General Plan update kind of experiences that really help you get to understand how the city has been formed over time in terms of land use, and what our zoning code says and how so much of that impacts the way that our city looks today. From there, I was picked up at the city manager’s office to start the city’s first sustainability program. That was in 2007 – 2008, when sustainability in California was all the rage. And so that was essentially starting a department from scratch. I spent a couple years doing that and was able to parlay that experience to work for the city of Irvine as their environmental programs administrator, and later their community services manager. And in those roles, managed their environmental and agricultural programs, open space management, park planning and park maintenance operations. So that really kind of opened up the, the kind of door to additional areas of experience. And Irvine is a great city to work for. But I was commuting, you know, an hour to an hour and a half each way. I had never at that point worked in a city I didn’t live in. And I didn’t realize that was such a big kind of factor or should have been such a factor, you know, in future career decisions. And I was able to return to the city of Long Beach where I live as a park development officer. And so the Irvine position really teed me up for that. So I did that for a couple years leading Park planning and capital project program and writing capital grants, and then was tapped for recently for a promotion as our park planning and partnerships manager. And so here I lead our inclusive community engagement program. I do all the departments strategic planning, as well as manage our partnerships, our contracts and agreements, our land use planning and permits, and then the things I was, same things I was doing before with Park planning and capital projects. So, you know, I would really like to see, at some point myself as a department director kind of in the same realm and and, you know, have always aspired to be, you know, the Assistant city manager, city manager, you know, of a city at some point. And I feel like working in community services and recreation is its own its own mini city. For my department, we have 1100 employees and many cities across the country, that’s the entirety of their of their government. So, you know, it’s it’s really good training ground for those those future aspirations.

Kent Wyatt

Well, so along the lines throughout these career moves and graduate school schooling, what’s the relationship that you have with your dad? I mean, are you guys, do you guys talk shop, about challenges you have at work or successes you have? Have you been able to have those conversations and I’m sure he has tons of information to give, but what’s that been like?

Meredith Reynolds

Yeah, I mean, we we do talk shop a lot. You know, sometimes it’s like, you know, ridiculous. You’ll never believe this kind of conversations. And then other times, it’s like, hey, have you seen this? Look how cool this is, look at this best practice or, hey, look at this idea from this, you know, this city or that city. And so it’s been pretty nice to have someone to, you know, who has it, who has a similar career, but different perspective and experience and be able to share those kinds of things and, you know, have those conversations that you really, you know, you can’t really have with your friends sometimes because they don’t, they just don’t understand.

Kent Wyatt

Well, so for for Meredith and others, our listeners who may be in similar tracks in their career, Jan, what’s, Jan, I’m interested in your advice on, you’ve been a city manager, you’ve seen the ups and downs. What advice do you have for people who are considering that as a step, the next step in their career?

Jan Reynolds

Well, a couple of things. Like I always told Meredith, you just have to become well rounded and gain experience. You just can’t go in as a management analyst in the public works department and spend 10 years there and expect to be prepared to say go into the next step of some kind of division head or particularly if it’s a large organization, because you got to be able to work across community lines, cross department lines, and one of the things I always stress with my people is you just got to be able to respect and work cross those lines with with people that are really your partners or perhaps someone that’s even your customer, and I used to tell the police guys look, you guys are a customer of Fleet maintenance. You should you should treat them right, because they can always say they’re not going to service your vehicles. And that would always get the police. Well, things like that. But to have that exposure across several department lines and at different levels is just critical to be to be successful in local government, I think in the long run.

Kent Wyatt

Well, I’m curious, and this is a little bit of a side topic, but it’s always a hot debate amongst the ELGL members. Jan, do you think a city manager should have to live in the city that they manage?

Jan Reynolds

You know, I don’t think they have to.

Kent Wyatt

Do you think they should?

Jan Reynolds

But anybody that ever thought about it would not even think about not living in the community that they represent. In my my perspective, I can’t see why you would choose, I mean, okay, there’s there are some communities I guess if you were going to go, let me pick a good one, Santa Barbara, you know, it’s pretty pricey place. And it would be pretty …., even San Francisco, some of the Bay Area communities where even rent runs, you know, four or five $6,000 a month. I can understand the economic impacts of that, but I can’t fathom why you would unless it was just such an economic issue, why you wouldn’t want to live in a community that you represent, because that’s where you, you get that feel. That’s where you see the people in the grocery store. You also drive over all the potholes, and I mean, it just gives you a connection. And one of the things, I’m actually a runner, I’ve been a runner for gosh, almost 50 years now. I used to enjoy every morning, go out and run, run my streets run different parts of the community, run through some of the capital projects. So I had a feel for what the public and also the employees that were running the projects, what they were going through and you couldn’t do that if you live next door or down the street. It just gives you that connectivity to the community that should be your life.

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, I’m, I’m on your side on this one. I’m a traditionalist partially because that’s what I knew. So growing up on the East Coast, every city my dad was in, I don’t know if it was a formal requirement, but we lived in the city since moving out to the west coast. So I don’t know if it’s a times past and then minds have changed or it’s geographics, but in the northwest especially, their most managers don’t live in the cities that they manage. You know, I know cost which you mentioned is one issue. And but the other issue that I’ve heard for not living in the city is, something you said as a positive, some view as a negative of being in the grocery store and running into community members. You know, the sense that you’re always on if you’re a city manager living in the city that you manage. I mean, to me, that’s part of the responsibilities. But that is that’s some of the dialogue that I’ve heard around why you wouldn’t live in the city that you manage.

Jan Reynolds

Yeah, I and I guess I am a little bit old school from that way, but just the the connectivity that you have, whether it’s people or projects or needs, or rumors, or whatever it may be. You just don’t have that connectivity. And I think that hurts your ability to be the best manager you can be.

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, I’ve you know, the city manager in the city we live in, the former one, he got it, he got, they were raising rates for something and community input. They were, some of the citizens were mad and their whole point was, well, you’re not paying for these rates, so you don’t care. And you’re gonna go ahead and raise them anyways. So, yeah, it isn’t a discussion on both sides. So, Meredith, you mentioned a little bit, some of the takeaways or some things that advice that you’ve gotten from your dad. Are there certain skills or traits that you think particularly stick out that have helped you in your career that you’ve gotten from your either your mom or your dad?

Meredith Reynolds

Sure. I think one of the things that particularly about the job that stood out has stood out to me is kind of what in the local government sense like what well rounded means. So, thinking about budget experience and personnel experience and then project and programmatic experience, can you manage an operation? You know, the types of, are you a good communicator? Do you build relationships well? Can you work with people on all levels? Those are some of those things that you know, kind of have stood out to me over the years and and I share with others who ask me very similar kind of advice. The other thing is that people and relationships are important. I talk a lot to my staff team, and then the people in my network in the city. I call them my coalition of the willing, how no one can do anything alone. That’s I think that’s particularly noticeable in my organization of, you know, 5000 employees, because it takes 17 people to sign off on an invoice. And so, being able to, you know, understand what is important to others, and how you can motivate them or influence them to, you know, help you on projects or help you process an invoice or whatever the case may be. And being able to see how, you know, even if you are someone who’s an internally serving position, how you connect and your work connects to the larger community. Um, I think a couple other things that that stand out is, you know, kind of that the similar to to your dad’s advice, Kent, about don’t get arrested [laughter], is this concept of, your actions matter. You know, so if I was going to be brought home in the back of a police car by the police chief, that probably wouldn’t look so great for my dad. And so, you know, you know, being a good person and you know, and a good kid, that part of that was, you know, not having, you know, a lot of, you know, whether it was kind of just being thoughtful or having that pressure of not doing something that was going to make your make your family look bad, because that would be that would be detrimental and particularly in a small town then everybody would know. [Laughter] So, so that was something that that, you know, just being really mindful about that. And I think you might have, dad, even said at one point, I think I was always curious about why during political seasons, we never had any yard signs in our yard. And I asked my dad one day, and he said, well, it’s, you know, because of my job, we really need to be neutral. You know, we really, we can, we can vote and we can take a position, but we don’t need to be public about it. And part of that was, you know, always be thoughtful about your actions, and what would it look like if it was on the front page of the local paper? And so, you know, perception a lot of times is, is the reality and so, you know, being really thoughtful about what does this look like outwardly to to your community or to the public?

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, I mean, on that note, I guess that’s another takeaway from my dad that I got is, one, he would never tell me who we voted for. He was a registered independent, because that’s what he felt like a city manager should be. And I hope he told my mom at least who he’d vote for but he was very much like, I’m my role as the manager is neutral and I should display that at all times. So it’s a yard sign would not even be a topic in our house. Voting is it was supported, but saying who, that was not. I remember that vividly of like, I’m not telling you who I voted. I’m supposed to be right down the middle. So which is which is great. I think that’s your traditional city manager and part of what they, how it should be. But it is interesting, the things that kind of stick out from our childhood that we remember, and usually it’s for the for the good in that respect. One of the areas I want to get to before we run out of time is, and this is a little bit selfish. So I have, as I mentioned, I have two younger 10 year old and eight year old girls. And I’m curious in hearing from both of you on this one, but Jan first. I hope by the time that they come around, and if they’re interested in local government, they all have an equal shot at any position that their male counterparts would. Jan, what’s in your time in city government, how have you seen hopefully the growth of women in leadership roles and how far do you think we have left till everybody is really on more of an equal playing field?

Jan Reynolds

Well, I worked through the time where initially early on in my career where there were no female police officers, no female firefighters, no female maintenance workers. And through through my career, I actually saw a situation in our community where we actually hired a number of female police officers a number of female maintenance workers. No female firefighters though, interestingly enough, although we did special training classes and we did a lot of outreach. Just we just never got there while I worked there. One of the things, and I’m not sure where this came from, but I always went out of my way to provide opportunities not only from within the organization but to to hire females. I think all but one of my assistant city managers were female, all went on to become city managers or county managers. We can’t stop offering those opportunities to people. And we’ve got to stretch ourselves to even move into the uncomfortable realm if that’s what it takes, but I know a lot of managers that that, that shied away from doing that because they were uncomfortable with either working with a woman or or perhaps your wife was uncomfortable with that. [Laughter] Which which is what I was working was was was a pretty, pretty common thing. But this, this idea of offering opportunity, and then supporting those people is just critical in all phases of local government, you know, and the firefighters, the police officers, the maintenance workers, and, frankly, I found some of my best advice and some of my strongest supporters and some of my most ethical people were people that I gave opportunities to, and they just learned learned and just grew and you could just see them just blossom. And one young woman that started working for me as a personnel tech, that ended up becoming assistant city manager and she was a from a Hispanic woman from a family of 13 brothers and sisters. And she used to tell me that her first memories were sitting out in the field watching her parents and brothers and sisters pick fruit and vegetables. And interestingly enough, everyone in that family except for the oldest daughter, got a college degree and were very successful, many of them in the public service and just shows that if you if you give people opportunities, they’ll blossom for you. They’ll support you. They’ll be loyal and they’ll be just some of your best employees.

Kent Wyatt

Well said. Meredith, you are a leader, woman leader in local government right now, but what’s been your experience in, in climbing the ranks in local government and leadership positions? And if I guess if you have any advice too for some of our listeners who might be curious on this topic?

Meredith Reynolds

Sure. I think there was a period of time early in my career where sort of the issue of gender and gender roles were were not at the forefront of things that I saw or that I noticed. And as I grew in my career, and as I started to take some of the initial leadership roles, you really started to see, you you were you were involved in a lot of internal discussions and decisions and you really started to see how gender impacted  the ability to have an opportunity. And so it became something that I really had to figure out if that was going to be a, like my cause or not. And what what I found a lot was that women who I, who were mentoring me or or I wanted to be coached by, often got to a place where they were and then they will pull the ladder up behind them and didn’t help support the next generation of women coming coming you know that up the ranks behind them. And that’s something that I’m very cognizant about not wanting to repeat. Making sure that those who I work with, those who I mentor and those on my staff who you know, are female or you know, Black, Latinx, Cambodian, Filipino, we see a lot of those demographics in my organization. You haven’t had that kind of opportunity, and going out of your way to providing opportunities to people who you have seen been looked over for other things. Part of what I spend my time working on are issues of equity. I’m on my city’s reconciliation team for a reconciliation plan, and a lot of those frustrations have been heard and voiced by our community. And we’ve also heard a lot from our staff about the organization not appreciating you as your whole self, and wanting to bring your whole self to work. And so that really means kind of, as my dad mentioned, of being getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. So for instance, there was an example of someone who had shared that, you know, the way they are, they come from a large family and they’re very loud because that’s the way that their family is. [Laughter] And they’re very loud at work. And so they have this perspective of of being, you know, over the top and you know, not just outgoing but outgoing in a over the top and kind of a negative fashion and being obnoxious, and always, you know, disruptive and that’s not, that’s not who they are, that’s just part of how they grew up and they’re not really able to be be seen as someone you can trust as a result of that. And that’s, that’s very hurtful. And so, you know, being able to really take a moment and realize where people are coming from and if they’re able to bring their whole selves to work, they’re a better employee for it. And that that definitely plays into ethnicity and gender roles.

Kent Wyatt

Go ahead, Jan.

Jan Reynolds

Along that same line too, I, I always noticed through my career that and I tell younger people that, as you work your way up through the organization, and you know, you aspire to be City Manager, or Assistant City Manager, division head, whatever it might be, it’s really critical that you not forget where you’ve been. I mean, I can remember being first hired, you know, as a management analyst, not knowing much about the city or the organization and how it works and just being thrown into things and just being kind of starstruck about, gosh, how’s this work? And I think if people would remember where they’ve been in and the things that they’ve faced at all these different levels, you can’t forget where you came from. And if you if you can do that, I think you’d be much more helpful for people either that are working for you or people that look up to you, whatever the case may be, to help them and to, you know, provide opportunities for them, so they can move ahead too. And I’ve seen so many city managers, just you know, forget what it was like being an analyst, or forget what it was like working part time in the recreation department or something like that. And, you know, they don’t even talk to their employees, they never meet with their employees. You know, I had several hundred employees and I knew every employee by his first name. I met with every employee, every six months in small groups, talk about the goals of city talk about what we’re doing, talk about how they fit into the picture. So they understood and and by having those relationships with people, you can help them just be better employees and help them achieve the kinds of aspirations that they may have. But you got to remember where you came from.

Kent Wyatt

Great, great advice. And I love the remember people’s names. My dad was the same way, like it was, where if we were at the grocery store or a community event, from the bottom to the top of the organization he knew the names and that does mean a lot. It means a lot. It shows that you care, which is a huge thing that employees look towards. So I have a ton of other questions, but I’m gonna actually defer on those. I’m gonna give you guys the last question. So I want to give you a chance to ask each other a question, whatever that may be, work related, family related. So we’ll start with Meredith. Meredith, what’s one question that you want to ask your dad?

Meredith Reynolds

I wrote about in a previous morning buzz how my dad would always say, as we’re headed out the door, “make it a good day”. And I was you know, a kid, and I would roll my eyes and say, Dad! [Laughter] My question for my dad is, Dad, where did you get “make it a good day”, and what are the reasons that this phrase resonates with you?

Jan Reynolds

Well, I don’t know that I could tell you where I got it. I think, I think it came from this idea that you have so many segments of your life, you’re a father, you are a community leader, you’re this you’re that, you’re a husband. And I think with all those pressures, you oftentimes just stopped to think about how lucky you are, and that, you know, days may go by that you just don’t realize how lucky you are and how, how grateful you in fact should be. And to be more in tune with, literally, you’re the one that makes it a good day. And you can do whatever you need to do to make things a good day and to get by and that’s not to say every day is a great day. But if you’re trying to make it a good day and you’re you’re cognizant of that, that’s that’s what life’s all about, is striving to do the things that you’re doing that make your day and other people’s day a good day. You know, and I say the same thing to both daughters every day. I see my younger daughter, I see every day because I pick up her dogs. We take care of her dogs during the day and I see and I tell her make it a good day. And she does the same thing. Rolls her eyes and shakes her head. [Laughter] And they’re they remembered it though, right?

Kent Wyatt

Oh, yeah. Well, Jan, what question do you have for Meredith?

Jan Reynolds

You know, I think one of the questions I have and she talks about this, is this idea of creating partnerships and creating situations where people work together and we talked a little bit about that and I always ask her what she’s what she’s doing to do that because I think that’s one of the things she saw in my career, and it’s just such so critical. I mean, just partnerships with your with your team, but partnerships across department lines and all that, you know, what do you what do you what kinds of things do you do and to get the organization to keep doing that?

Meredith Reynolds

Well, it helps to be in charge of it. [Laughter] At least for my department. I think being able to communicate the qualitative and quantitative benefits that you derive from partnerships is really powerful. You know, so I have a couple of examples in the last several months, you know, despite COVID, where we have the Conservation Corps of Long Beach and Campfire USA, have are two of our partners that we work with in the parks department, and we’ve partnered with them on a Park vision plan, then two grant applications that they were they applied for, but were successful in getting. And so those, you know, several million dollars of grant applications that they’ve received, will build us a new environmental stewardship center, and a new trail, which are two of the things that were identified in the vision plan by the community. And so without those relationships, we wouldn’t have millions of dollars invested in our parks, we wouldn’t have, you know, a community that stood behind our department or these partners, you know, in support of seeing their vision come to fruition on this park. And those are some of the really easy examples. Not that the work was easy, but just that the example, it’s so it’s so, they proved themselves to be of value. And so, you know, those are the little things happen in between those grant applications, right. So it’s the check ins, it’s the phone calls, it’s the where you connect the dots, and you see how one of those organizations might be beneficial to somebody else and you make an introduction. You know, you do human things like ask how their family is doing during COVID. Or, you know, any other normal time when there is no COVID you know, those sorts of things, you know, and understanding, you know, where they could use some support or some help, and how does your organization fit into that, and could be of help. So we do a lot of that, you know, as part of the partnership work that I’m responsible for, and then celebrating peoples success and where you have success together. We do a thing called “shout outs” in my department, and we send these email department wide emails out, where we’re giving a shout out to somebody who did a great job. And so a lot of times for my team or for others in the organization, you know, I’ll send those shout outs and acknowledge people’s hard work and they’re and celebrate their success. Because their success is something that, you know, props up and uplifts our department as well. And so those kind of partnerships, you know, things on the big scale and the smaller, more personal scale are things that I try to prioritize as part of my partnership work.

Kent Wyatt

Oh, that’s really cool. It’s great to hear that. I think our listeners probably learn some things on how they can improve their workplace by that last answer. So good question, Jan. Great, great answer, Meredith. And I appreciate you guys’s both for your time today. And Meredith, your continued commitment to ELGL and helping advance local government. And then Jan, obviously, the incredible service that you gave to communities in California with your work is much appreciated. And hopefully, our listeners learned a lot today from you guys. But that does end our episode for today. I want to thank you guys for coming on and talking with us. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove or on Twitter @govlovepodcasts. We’re also on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher and Google Play Music. Thanks for your time today Meredith and Jan. Really appreciate it.

Jan Reynolds

You’re welcome.

Meredith Reynolds

Thank you Kent.


Close window