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WOMEN IN GOVERNMENT.

HAZEL WETHERFORD: “I WANT TO GIVE BACK”

Hazel Wetherford is deputy city manager in Dublin, California, about 35 miles east of San Francisco.

A natural leader, Wetherford is passionate about her career.  She describes herself as a “true local government geek,” who loves giving back to the community and seeing the changes that hard work and dedicated public servants make possible.  She is known not only for her commitment to her community, to her team, and her Latina heritage, but also as an active member of local government professional associations, and a devoted mentor to women who are interested in entering, learning, and rising in local government. “If my name is on something, you know I’ve given my heart and soul to it,” she says.


This is the final profile of our four “2024 Inspirational Women in Local Government”. These were published on each Thursday in March. The  profile and Q&A for Aviva Tevah is here;. The profile and Q&A for Opal Mauldin-Jones is here, and one for  Lori Thomas is here. 


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


Each week, I try to do a “Motivational Monday” with my team. Recently, I read and gained knowledge from John Maxwell’s “21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day,” and I shared tidbits with my team. The last book I shared prior to that was Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead”. I have a passion for reading and firmly believe in the importance of ongoing education and personal growth.


I want to be the kind of leader that shows up. I do that each week by asking myself, what am I doing to show up and how can I show up for my team? We all have a job to do, but how we do it speaks volumes to those around you. My team knows I have no problem rolling up my sleeves and working alongside them. I have a colleague, Scott Andrews, Assistant City Manager of Bakersfield, who recently wrote an article on “All you need is love” which may seem a bit odd when talking about local government, but it’s a good read as it looks at empathy and vulnerability as superpowers to leadership. That’s the type of leader I strive to be.


A large part of my leadership journey is attributed to personal relationships that I’ve built along my journey; those are especially meaningful to me. I’ve had some incredible leaders and mentors in my life, and I can only hope that I can give back in the same meaningful way. The women leaders who have paved the way for me have influenced my own journey, and in turn, I want to help the next generation as they navigate their own path. This commitment is so very important to me.


Tell us a little about your community and your role?


Dublin is a newer community in comparison to our neighbors, and it has been named as one of the fastest growing cities in California. Our community has young professionals starting families and many of them are workers who commute to Silicon Valley because when you compare prices to the south Bay Area, Dublin is more affordable. In addition, we have a very safe community and a great quality of life with amazing parks, schools, and amenities.


Dublin is nestled in the Tri-Valley region -- one of five communities that spread over Alameda County and Contra Costa County. These five cities work very collaboratively together, which is not something you always find. 


I’ve worked in different cities and there’s just something truly distinctive here. The five mayors collaborate closely on state and federal advocacy matters, spanning from transportation to securing grants and funding. They even unite in trips to Sacramento and Washington DC to meet with representatives, collectively advocating for the advancement of our region.


We've successfully provided affordable housing in our community, and we are a business attractor because of our location; we sit at the crossroads of two main interstate freeways, I-580 and I-680, and we have two Bay Area Rapid Transit stops, more commonly known as BART. This combination of assets serves as a draw for businesses.


Before assuming the role of Deputy City Manager last year, I was the Economic Development Director. Many people are not aware of the impact that economic development has on the various facets of local government. In my new role, I still oversee our economic development efforts, along with emergency preparedness, animal services, legislative advocacy, and more. 


I love my job because of its diversity in the variety of tasks I undertake. One day I could be negotiating with a landowner on a development project, meeting with a local resident who wants to start a new business or reviewing marketing brochures on small business support programs. I find a lot of value and meaning in the work I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 


What was the path that led you to public service?


I got exposed to local government when I served on the youth city council as a teenager in high school in the City of Concord, which is about 25 minutes from Dublin. That was really my first glimpse of local government and understanding the concerns and challenges the youth were facing at that time. One of our recommendations to the Concord City Council was a skate park, an amenity we did not have at the time. That was a long time ago, but when I drive by, I’m happy to see that the skate park is there and that our recommendation came to fruition.


I was also influenced by my parents. I am of Latina heritage. My mother immigrated from El Salvador and worked two jobs, both as a mail carrier and a house cleaner, always wanting to provide more for her family. I have a very strong work ethic that I attribute to her. My father is Caucasian and was an older parent when I came along, and public service and giving back to the community were really important to him. So, I grew up with those values instilled in me. 


Although I initially wanted to be a lawyer and was accepted to law school, I got married after I graduated from UC Davis and deferred admission. At first, I took a job with the chief clerk’s office on the assembly floor of the California state legislature, but I wanted to see where change could be effectuated in a community, so I applied for jobs in local government.


I went to work for the City of Brentwood and started an outdoor dining program there, working with restaurants downtown, and I saw how that program was impactful and revitalized a lot of areas. The city manager, Donna Landeros, who is Caucasian, saw a lot of talent and potential in me. She tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hazel, have you considered being a city manager?” Looking back at it now, that amazes me. One, there weren’t a lot of women in the profession. And two, there were not a lot of women of color.


Had she not tapped me on the shoulder, I don’t know if I would be serving in the capacity that I am in today. While attending law school was always my initial goal, the responsibilities of marriage and establishing a new home took precedence, shaping my path in unforeseen ways. Instead, she encouraged me to get my master’s degree in public administration, which I did while still working full-time in Brentwood. Shortly thereafter, I was tapped on the shoulder again by the Economic Development Manager, Linda Smith, to work alongside her in the field of economic development in Brentwood.


In that role, Linda served as an amazing mentor, who taught me what it means to attract businesses; to help them grow; and retain them. She really took me under her wing and taught me all she knew. She supported me, encouraged me, and poured into me as a true mentor should.  


She later became the city manager in Dublin, and I was very fortunate that our paths crossed again and I now work for her here. But back in Brentwood, she said, “I see a lot of potential here and I’m going to help groom you and teach you the ropes.” I consider her a lifetime mentor and one of the most important women in my professional career.


What are you most proud of professionally?


I’m proudest of our work in Dublin to create a new downtown. We don’t have a pedestrian-friendly walkable “Main Street” downtown because we didn’t have a railroad stop which would’ve organically created that epic center or more commonly referred to as a “Main and Main”. 


Prior to the city incorporating in 1982, this area fell under the county’s planning which placed big box stores with a lot of surface level parking in our Downtown commercial center. 


For the last seven years, we’ve been planning to demolish, remodel and rebuild. This entailed a lot of complex steps -- hiring an architect to create an initial design, hiring a real estate consultant to work on unraveling outdated covenants, conditions, and restrictions, and working with the primary property owner on a master plan that matched the city vision, which was approved in late 2019. Along the way, we’ve made adjustments to our Downtown specific plan to support these efforts. Now, we’re at the point where the project is going to come before the City Council before the end of the year for approval of the Site Development Review before it goes into construction drawings.


The first phase should be visible in three to five years.


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?


I believe it’s mentoring for sure. I constantly hear reasons why mentoring is important when I attend conferences and listen to panel discussions.


Just recently I heard that men will apply for a job even if they only meet three qualifications out of ten whereas women will need to meet eight or nine, if not all ten before they feel confident in applying. That tells you that there is still work to be done.


One of my values that I love to speak on is perspective. I tend to have a very positive outlook. Last month, I had the opportunity to speak to the Alameda County Leadership Academy participants and I said, “I know it’s not all roses. I know there are late night hours and sometimes a difficult work-life balance.” I have three little ones myself – ages 10, 8 and 2. And I understand the daily pressures.


“But”, I said. “You do have control over your perspective. If you show up to work and say, ‘This is not part of my job’ or ‘This is not my responsibility’, you’re missing out on opportunities. It’s a matter of choice, and I personally choose to see the opportunities.”


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


Over the years, I’ve been very involved in professional associations because it’s important to me to give back to the profession and the next generation of leaders. 

I’m a past president of the Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC) and I’ve been involved for a very long time. Then, as I grew in my professional career, I started becoming involved with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), as well as with Cal-ICMA, the California state association, where I’m currently serving as president.


I am also involved with the Local Government Hispanic Network, where I serve on the board and participate in its mentoring Madrinas and Padrinos program.  I really get excited about that and how it paves the way for others. I’m also involved professionally in a lot of other organizations that help sharpen my skills so I can be a well-rounded leader.


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


I definitely would say it’s my bench of colleagues that I've created over the years – women and men I can call up and talk with. I can reach out to them and say, “Hey, I’m having this dilemma. What are your thoughts? Have you had this experience?”


It’s also finding ways to sharpen my skill set in the areas that I'm not too familiar with, like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that impacts development projects and how to mitigate for environmental effects. I'm not a CEQA expert, so I purchased a guide to better understand the process. 


It’s the same thing with land use policies. I am involved with the Urban Land Institute’s San Francisco Chapter and their Technical Assistance for Communities committee. This committee tackles complex real estate development and land use planning projects by providing a panel of experts in their respective fields to help cities, counties, public agencies, and communities to develop more sustainable and vibrant cities. Dublin used this resource twice, one for the Downtown area and another time for a large development project that required extensive community engagement.


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


Absolutely. There’s been progress, but it’s not enough. In August 2014, the International City/County Management Association released a final report of the Status of Women in the Profession, and of the 3,586 Chief Administrative Officers, approximately 14.4% were women. 


In 2023, the California City Management Foundation in partnership with the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, conducted a comprehensive survey of city managers in California. The survey disclosed that while the percentage of women to men in California is evenly split 50%/50%, the number of women city managers is estimated to be only 24%. 


There’s still so much more work to be done. Women continue to experience gender bias in their local government careers; they lack career advancement opportunities, and they struggle with work-life balance. These issues were all mentioned as obstacles in the 2014 report.


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


Along with the amazing mentors that continue to have an impact on my life, I would also like to thank Patricia Martel, former City Manager of Daly City, who always made time for me to bend her ear for advice. In addition, I want to give a shout-out to Elisa Cox in the city of Rancho Cucamonga, who was Cal-ICMA President last year. She is somebody who is dedicated to the profession, their community, and just going above and beyond every day. Lastly, I would like to thank and mention Pamela Antil, City Manager of Encinitas and the League of Women in Government for their nomination and support.



IW ARCHIVES

2024 INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT.
 

LORI THOMAS: HELPING OTHERS ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS

OPAL MAULDIN-JONES: "PAYING IT FORWARD"

AVIVA TEVAH: A FOCUS ON EQUITY AND TRANSFORMATION

HAZEL WETHERFORD: “I WANT TO GIVE BACK”

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