top of page



With a reputation for thoughtful leadership and a commitment to service, Lori Thomas, the Assistant County Administrator in Richland County, South Carolina

With a reputation for thoughtful leadership and a commitment to service, Lori Thomas, the Assistant County Administrator in Richland County, South Carolina, has an unwavering belief that local government provides vital and often under-recognized opportunities for women. Known for her empathy toward others, among the advantages she sees in jobs in local government are the potential for work-life balance and stability. After more than twenty years in the private sector, Thomas took her first local government job 17 years ago. Her strong relationships with local and national government associations, the Richland County Council, her County Administrator, her team, and external contractors win her accolades as does her commitment to the strategic approach that guides Richland County to its prioritized goals.

This is the third of our four profiles of 2024 Inspirational Women of Local Government” honorees, which we’re publishing each Thursday this month. The profile and Q&A for Aviva Tevah is here. The second profile and Q&A for Opal Mauldin-Jones is here. The fourth will be published on Thursday, March 28.

What are you reading right now? And is there a book that you’ve read in the past that was particularly meaningful to you?

When I read at home, it’s for pleasure and the kind of book that allows me to decompress. That’s because so much of my work involves reading journals, or what’s happening in the legislature or what our organization’s positions are and the pieces of legislation we should be aware of. 

I did get an email this morning that one of our 11 council members has written a book that will come out on March 26 that I’m looking forward to reading. It’s called “The 4 G Factor”. It talks about how she has achieved her goals. Grit was one of the “G’s”. Greatness was also one. I think it will be inspirational for women.

One book that’s been very important for my career in government is “The Price of Government” by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson. As a finance professional, who was coming from the private sector, it really spoke to me. In private business, it’s very clear what your goal is and what you’re trying to achieve. Your major achievement is to satisfy stockholders. But when you get to government, you have so many stockholders that you must find that happy balance. That’s been instrumental in my career in local government.

The book made me realize that there are tradeoffs to getting residents what they want because not everyone can have everything they desire. It helped me to adapt my mindset because it's very difficult when you've been in the private sector for 20 years to step outside of it. But once I was able to understand that life is one great compromise, I think it helped me both personally and professionally.

The more you can engage your citizenry and show them what you're doing, the more they can understand that not everybody is going to get what they want. If they did, what would that cost?

Tell us a little about your community and your role?

Richland County is a very diverse county. We are fortunate that we have a council that focuses on this diversity, recognizing the value that this brings to the community and the importance of embracing equitable principles in distribution of resources.

In Richland County, I manage the HR function, the budget, finance, procurement, fleet, and risk management. That’s everything that I always loved to do.

When I started, the county had not done capital projects for some time and right now we have four major capital projects valued at $174 million that are in process. We have developed a strategic plan, and come up with metrics to measure our achievements, and we’ve been able to work very closely with our council members on what the priorities are.

What was the path that led you to public service?

I was a finance professional in the private sector. My first significant role was in setting up business processes for an international company, which was starting its first operation in the US. In 2007, I could see the economy was starting to slip, so I began considering other professional options. I’m a person of great faith and I just said, “Lord, you’re going to have to show me what it is that you want me to do.” 

By chance, I saw a job posting on a local TV channel for a finance position with my local city government, the City of Rock Hill, South Carolina. I applied, and I got the job. 

I started out managing the city’s customer service and collections division. I moved on to issuing debt; doing financial reporting, doing continuing disclosures; serving on the bond team and finally taking on a role in management in the operations division of Rock Hill’s utility. I was doing capital planning and organizational development, which I really enjoyed. 

Then, I was approached by a recruiter with an opportunity in Richland County that sounded like it had been tailor made for me.  Of course, I was worried. I was a little bit older, and I was quite settled in my role in Rock Hill, as I had been there over 13 years.

When I was first interviewed for the Richland County job, I loved the ideas that the county administrator shared. During the interview, he said, “You know, I can't know everything. I'm looking for somebody who can help me.” And that was just so inviting.” 

When I first came to government, about 17 years ago, I realized that people on the outside often don’t understand what government really is. There hasn’t been a day in my life in public service, where I've been without a challenge. 

What are you most proud of professionally?

In local government, it’s so important to choose the right priorities. To do this, it is critical to have a council that clearly defines these.

My first day in Richland County was also the first day for five of our eleven council members. The council and administration realized we needed something to help us chart our organizational course. The council felt like a strong strategic plan would provide a foundation from which they could accomplish their collective goals.  Being a part of this process has made me most proud professionally. 

We published a plan with six goals and 94 initiatives. We quickly realized we needed to narrow those down a bit. As we went through that process, we also worked on performance measurement and refined those 94 initiatives into a much more manageable 50 or so. 

We’ve achieved about a 40% completion rate on these initiatives, and we continue to track this progress. Next January, we’ll start on an update of the strategic plan and move on with the next iteration. We found it to be critical for us to be able to align our priorities and to use that document to guide our activities. With everything we do in our organization, we ask whether the project, initiative or expenditure addresses a strategic goal. 

My passion for the last few years has also been getting people to come to work for local government. I'm really proud of my HR team. We've just finished a compensation study to make sure that we’re market competitive not only with the government, but also with the local private sector in our area.

We're seeing results from what we're doing. For the first time during my tenure, our Sheriff’s department is completely staffed. We also gauge this based on turnover – how many people we’re losing versus how many people we’re hiring. Since we increased our focus on recruiting and made our compensation changes, hires have outpaced resignations two to one.

The theme of UN International Women’s Day this year is Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress. What do you see as some of the best ways to invest in women in local government?

When I worked for the City of Rock Hill, there was a tuition reimbursement program.  I had a bachelor’s degree and really needed to get a master’s degree to further my career. The City of Rock Hill made that possible. It paid for about 50% of my master's degree. I saw that as an investment in me and I appreciated it.

Two individuals who had a particular influence on my interest in local government were Anne Harty who was the Chief Financial Officer, and Jimmy Bagley, who was our Deputy City Manager on the operation side. They both educated me on the processes that helped to move the organization forward.

Needs for female employees have changed and currently to attract females, organizations must look to investment in childcare. Since the pandemic, quality, affordable childcare has been very difficult to secure.

This is an initiative of our council’s chair. We're looking for ways to develop affordable, quality childcare for our employees and for some of our economic development projects. Addressing this critical shortage may mean a variety of options such as assistance to start childcare businesses or finding ways to provide tuition for childcare.

Employers will have to consider this as a benefit component. I was very fortunate. My youngest child will turn 30 this week. When I consider what childcare cost when he was young, compared to the cost for my granddaughter, it’s almost four times as much these days. 

Can you describe the kinds of personal investments you’re now making in others?

I believe there is no greater investment you can make in people than your time to help them achieve their goals. I hope those in my circle see that this is my mission – to invest my time to know what their goals are and to determine how I can be part of the journey to reach those goals both professionally and personally.

Where do you go now when you want support, education, or mentorship, whether that’s formal or informal?

The Government Finance Officers Association in the US and Canada is probably one of the best networking organizations you can be a part of. They encourage your involvement and I think that’s probably what built my confidence in local government.  We have a great state GFOA in South Carolina and I reach out to them quite frequently as well as our state local government association.

I think the National Association of Counties also offers some great resources for county government. I know when I first came to county government it was very different from the municipal side of the house. So, I certainly use a lot of those resources.  The opportunities that come from local government associations are tremendous and should be widely recognized. They are affordable and they offer great resources and a network of peers. 

Another valuable resource for me is my county administrator, Leonardo Brown, who is amazing. I can just bounce ideas off of him and say what I’m thinking. He’s always very quick to share his insight with me but also very quick to pass on accolades as well or to come and ask me if there's something that he thinks he just wants to run by me. 

Are you seeing obstacles to women moving ahead in local government? 

In my professional career, prior to being in government, I was typically in industries that were dominated by men. I have found local government to be much more open to women. I've never felt that being a woman was an obstacle. As a matter of fact, I would point out that this is a great career for females because it allows you the ability to have a real work life balance.

When I was in the private sector, and I was raising three boys, I missed a lot of activities that in the government I would have been there for, like baseball games that started too early or football practice and having to figure out how I was going to get them there.

As a government, we have taken on the role of being as flexible as we possibly can be to allow people to have a great work life balance. We just recently adopted six weeks of maternity/paternity leave for both women and men. It’s available if you have a child or you're a co-parent to a child or adopt a child.

I think local government is a great place for women because it’s the best of both worlds. It can provide you with a great career and great stability. Local government has also become more competitive financially, and you can grow to meet your capacity, not the capacity that someone else thinks you should achieve. 

Are there women that you know in public service who deserve a shout-out? Celebrate them here.

Anne Harty, the Chief Financial Officer for the City of Rock Hill. She has been the person that has been with me for this entire career in local government. All the women of Richland County Council. They do a phenomenal job. I’d point out that six of our eleven are female and our Chair is also female. I’d also like to recognize every woman working in Richland County Government – without them “the work” would be impossible to do.  I’d also give a shout out to Emily Brock at GFOA. She does governmental affairs activities for the organization and makes certain that local governments know exactly the developments on Capitol Hill affecting local government.



bottom of page