The Transition with Zoe Monahan, City of Jerome, Idaho

The City of Jerome, Idaho shares few similarities with Portland, Oregon but that is where we caught up with ELGL member Zoe Monahan. Zoe is transitioning from working as a assistant planner for the City of Sherwood to serving as the community development director in Jerome, Idaho. Her new position is providing the crucial skills (supervisory skills, land use experience, and communication skills) which are necessary  for advancing in the local government profession.

Many of you will be happy to know Zoe has not yet traded in her Oregon Ducks fandom to root for her new home team, the Idaho Vandals. In fact, as you’ll read in the following interview, Zoe is predicting a big finish for this year’s Ducks football team.

Describe your thoughts walking into city hall the first day on the job?

This is really happening… I felt like the new kid on my first day of school.

What one word would describe your emotions?

Excited!

What are two things you did before starting in Jerome to prepare yourself for the job ahead? 

  • I did a lot of online research to get to know the city.
  • I communicated with my predecessor regularly.

If ELGL was to visit you for lunch in Jerome, what restaurant would you take us to?

The Burnt Lemon Grill

What is one issue that you encountered in Jerome that you were not expecting?

Wastewater. We need to make some upgrades to our wastewater plant. I had no idea that I would need to know anything about wastewater. This project has an impact on future economic development and if we go to bond I will be working with the media a lot as I serve as the City’s public information officer.

What are three of your goals for the first few months on the job?

  • Gain the trust of the staff, the community, the City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission and the URA.
  • Get to know Idaho land use laws.
  • Write a public information officer policy

Tell us about the project that consumes your time the most.

Lately, press releases, wastewater and code language regarding living in RVs on private property. The Area of City Impact (similar to Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundary) is taking a lot of time. This is a discussion between the Jerome Board of County Commissioners and Jerome City Council. We are working on determining a boundary and how this area is regulated. It is very interesting and fluid since it is an agreement between the City and the County. There is not a regional government facilitating growth in the region.

Two biggest issues facing Jerome?

  • Wastewater
  • Insurance issues

How did your experience in Sherwood and PSU prepare you for this position?

My experiences at Sherwood helped me to get to where I am today. My former supervisor Julia Hajduk encouraged me to keep an open mind and reminded me that the planning code is not always black and white.  This has been invaluable as planning in Jerome is far more flexible than Oregon. I also learned how to work with boards, commissions and elected officials with her guidance and by observing her. Additionally, my position in Sherwood changed a lot from start to finish. It gave me the confidence and experience to take on new tasks as they were assigned and to learn as I went. I am learning a lot each day in Jerome. I am excited about finding out where I am in my learning curve a year from now.

My experience at PSU helped me to think about local government as a whole rather than only focusing on planning. The coursework also helped me to understand budgets, contracts, human resources management, etc.

Based on your recent experience, give our readers two tips for transitioning jobs?

  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Schedule a lunch break, otherwise you’ll never make it out of the office. It helps to take a few minutes to catch your breath.

What are your thoughts on ELGL becoming a nonprofit and charging $20 dues?

I agree with the concept.

Who is your dream speaker for ELGL? If an Idaho ELGL chapter existed who would be the first speaker? 

President Obama, is that wishful thinking? The first Idaho speaker would be Travis Rothweiler, City Manager of Twin Falls. Apparently, there are only a few City Managers in the State. Most communities with professional managers have city administrators. He was the City Administrator in Jerome before taking the position in Twin Falls and he has played a large role in the economic development of both communities.

How will you measure whether you’ve had a successful first year?  

This year is about getting to know the community and communicating with the citizens effectively. If I know the community’s values and vision by the end of this year and the citizens  are receptive of the messages that we are sending to them, it will be a success. The community might be voting on an important bond, we’ll be moving forward with a number of land use ordinances and adopting the area of impact. Those two elements play a large role in my ability to  continue to move economic development and planning forward. It will tell me how I am doing as the public information officer and help me to guide the Urban Renewal Agency in the right direction.

Who would win – Oregon or Alabama? Score?

Oregon!!! I cannot predict but I think Oregon will win by at least 10 points.

What are the two things you miss the most in living outside of Oregon?

I miss my networks (family, friends and professional) and I miss all of the amazing restaurants in the Portland area.

Finally, and most importantly, what book are you reading?

“Democracy at the Doorstep, Too!” by Mike Conduff and Melissa Byrne Vossmer (My Dad brought it back to me from the ICMA conference in Phoenix and suggested it could provide some insights from the points of view of women managers.)

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