By Danielle Verwahren, Catawba County, NC, LinkedIn
2008 – 2012: The Era of Pre-, but Not Really, Pre-Local Government
Local government definitely found me before I found it.
In 2008 I was a sophomore in high school, dating the man that would become my husband, and working with my city’s Parks and Recreation Department. It started as an entry level job that worked around my schedule and I was happy that I had avoided working retail or food service.
I loved my community and wanted to work in government in the long run, but I was undecided on what suited me best. I vacillated in focus between the military, federal, and international work. In 2010 I began an economics and political science program at Colorado State University, but quickly found that I wasn’t as passionate as I’d hoped about my original areas of focus. I continued to work with the city as a program and facility manager while attending classes.
In 2012, my first course in public administration began with a question: “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term bureaucrat?” This class – taught by a former local government manager, turned professor – responded with long DMV lines, spectacular lapses in fiscal accountability, and unresponsive purveyors of red tape; all answers that carried a common theme. This group of students, some more engaged than the general public, viewed government bureaucracy of varying shapes and sizes as inefficient, ineffective, and unaccountable. Lack of trust though concentrated at the federal and state level have implications for the dedicated public servants that work to provide essential functions like well-maintained streets, public schooling, and operational utilities. It wasn’t until this course that I truly learned to embrace the term bureaucrat with pride.
2012 – 2016: The Era of the Strategic Plan
I am one of those people that color-coordinates spreadsheets about their professional and personal future – shout out to all of the other unashamed Leslie Knopes in ELGL. I was determined to knock out all of my personal and professional goals; I literally could not wait to start my career and life with this newfound focus on local government. As I continued to pursue my undergraduate degrees I kept working in Parks and Recreation, participated with local municipalities to learn more about community engagement, and volunteered my developing analytical skills to localities through service learning projects.
But 2014 is when it got real. In the span of less than five months I earned my bachelor’s degrees, got married, moved to Seattle, and began my MPA at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. Three months later I was helping to found the school’s first ICMA student chapter.
The first year of my MPA program I met with as many managers, assistants, and analysts as I could. I read about the #13Percent movement and got motivated but also, frankly, anxious. There were so many “horror” stories, accounts from women in the profession who had to sideline career or family to focus on the other. I thought pragmatically about the chances of breaking into local government, in an organization that was supportive, about timelines with FMLA or fellowship opportunities.
But life is short and I was way too stubborn to compromise on either my personal or professional goals. It was incredibly empowering to be pregnant while completing a heavy course load, leading events for fellow #localgov students through UW ICMA, and attending both the ICMA and ELGL conferences. In the end, I took one week off of class for my daughter’s birth and (hopefully) sounded halfway cognizant during my first interview for a local government fellowship just two days after leaving the hospital.
After graduating on time with my peers and my daughter in June 2016 we made the wonderful decision to accept an ICMA local government management fellowship with Catawba County, NC. Now I have an amazing powerhouse of a mentor, got to experience a local government in a time of significant administrative transition, and was able to help shape the County’s strategic planning process.
2016 – 2024 The Era Work-Life-Play Balance
After such a long period at breakneck speed, I am now weighing the merits of place and professional opportunity – hoping that the two will come together by the end of my fellowship.
In the Era of Work-Life-Play Balance, my family and I have relocated back to the Pacific Northwest – literally the best place in the world. I am working for a smaller organization that challenges me, in a position that feeds my need for creativity and problem-solving. I leave work every day to meet my husband and daughter for a run in the park, spending weekends backpacking in the forests. I can dedicate time to supporting local volunteer organizations and boards with passionate people, pouring energy into the things that are most important and making my community a better place.
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