My Story with Sarah Williamson-Baker, Wake County, NC

Posted on March 19, 2015

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ELGL’s mission is to connect, communicate, and educate. In this ongoing series, local government professionals tell the story of why they chose a local government career.Sarah Baker
Sarah Williamson-Baker (LinkedIn and Twitter) is the Communications Manager for Wake County, North Carolina. The County’s population passed one million last year, making it one of the 50 largest Counties in the United States. Previously, she worked for the Governor of North Carolina.
My story begins…
…quite by chance. I had been working in TV news for a number of years and came to realize that a good number of the stories I was relaying to viewers were tied to government. Be it a court hearing, a health program, cute kids dancing at a library program there was very often a government connection.
I started my career in news thinking I would be able to change the world (Naïve? Yes.) But I came to realize that I was just a mouthpiece. If I wanted to change anything, let alone make it better, I needed to be on the other side of the story.
In 2006, a friend told me about an appointed position that was open in State government and helped me get an interview. Less than three weeks later I was sitting at a desk in the State Capital building answering phone calls from reporters. A few years after that I had an opportunity to move into local government.
My friends think that local government is…
…interesting. The like taking me to trivia night because I know a little bit about so many things – both from working in news and local government.
Some of them also think it’s a little like Scandal. Hardly! I think The West Wing is a little more real – at least on the side of how much work goes into governing. There is a quote from the West Wing that I love.
Leo McGarry: There are two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make ’em – laws and sausages.
On most days my schedule is pretty much like the first 30 seconds of this clip:

Only no sweet and helpful Donna to keep me on track. Just me and a iPhone!
The defining moment of my life was…
… becoming a Mom. I was at a point where I was still trying to figure myself out a bit. However, being a parent really makes you think more about what’s ahead and what you want the future to be like (for your child).
I am interested in a lengthy local government career if…
…it stays interesting! What I love about my current position in the Communications Office is that I get to know a little about everything, and it is different every day. There are many others paths in local government that have equal variety, so even if I were to get tired of communications there are lots of options.
I aspire to…
…make my community better. Simple. Yes. But not always so easy.
If you want to interview someone interesting, you should contact…
…Lisa Lutten over at Wake County Public School System. She’s my counterpart in that organization and her team runs @wcpss – their Tweets have made buzz feed. Enough said.
I think more people would pursue a local government if…
…they knew more about it. We’re working on this right now in our community. Our strategy is pretty simple. Create a speakers bureau of awesome, energetic people. All ages. All backgrounds. All corners of local government. Provide a contact list to school leaders. Get invited to career days. I’d like to see us extend this to our local colleges and universities. We’ll see!
I think professional networking associations are…
… uber important. For young professionals or people just getting into a field they are a fantastic way to learn the business and grow professionally. For those that have been in the same line of work for a while professional associations help keep skills up to date, but just as important if not more, they provide a knowledge transfer for the next generation.
I think bumper stickers are…..
… to the 20th century what hashtags are in the 21st century. A quick, often quirky or witty saying. To stand out in the sea of one liners (be it the highway or the Twitterverse) it has to be both unique and meaningful.
My story ends…
… no time soon! The thing that I’ve learned is that you decide on the ending before you get there. The best you can do is to think about the next step or maybe two steps down the road. The rest is best left to your heart to follow.
For the next person that you interview, you should ask…
… what is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do working in government?
My answer would be flying over Chimney Rock, one of the highest points in North Carolina with a spectacular view, with the Governor the day the State purchased the property.

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