Executive Interview with Jessica Deakyne

Jessica Deakyne is the 2020 President of the Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC), and currently works at the City of Novato as Assistant City Manager. CBJ sat down with her to learn more about why she became involved in the world of local government, what she hopes to accomplish in the coming months, and what it’s like to be President of MMANC during these unprecedented times.

What got you involved in local government?

I have an undergraduate degree from UC Irvine (UCI), and while I was there my friend called me up and said “Hey I work at OCTA (Orange County Transportation Authority) and there’s a job opening – I think you’d be a really good fit for it”. And I thought, “Okay, well, I’ll take a look at it.” So I applied, got the job, and fell in love with public service. I was at OCTA for over seven years.

The last position I held there was Community Transportation Coordinator which meant that I administered federal, state, and local funding for services aimed at seniors and people with disabilities. And it was awesome. I lived in Tustin at the time and I got to see the Tustin seniors in a bus, benefitting from a program that I helped to build. It was really satisfying and galvanizing, and it felt like the right decision to continue. I was helping my community as well as all of the communities of Orange County. So that’s how I got started in public service, it was just a call from a mentor/friend saying “I think you’d be good at this.”

Why did you get involved in MMANC?

I moved to Northern California, and a few months later I started working at the City of Novato along with Carla Hansen, who is our previous president and at the time was a regional co-chair. She recommended MMANC to me and told me I would really like it. I was familiar with the organization because I was a member of MMASC for a year, but when I came to Northern California and met the MMANC board I realized that I had met my people. It was actually really refreshing, it’s not that often you walk into a room full of people and feel welcome, but I am always greeted by friendly and helpful faces at MMANC events.

I very quickly realized that these are people that I’m going to spend my entire career calling and asking for help, and we’re going to be doing good public service, albeit at different agencies, together. And that’s really been the case. Especially now, my board feels like a family.

What are your goals as president of MMANC? What do you hope the organization accomplishes during your tenure? How has that shifted in the midst of a global pandemic? 

It’s definitely a funky year to be president, especially of an organization that’s so focused on in-person networking. In January we settled on our strategic priorities for the year, and in March and April our executive board had to grapple with the fact that some of those things were no longer achievable in this current climate. So a few weeks ago I proposed some realignment of our priorities for the year, and it actually worked out that there is a lot we can achieve during this time.

The board decided that we would tackle some of the foundational administrative work that needs to be done. We also have fiscal sustainability stuff that we need to do, and we’re working on a Diversity and Inclusion Plan for our membership and our board. I’m not saying we predicted the shelter in place orders or the global pandemic, but I’m definitely saying I’m glad we won’t feel a year behind, since we luckily have found things that we can still do in 2020!

Something we prioritized this year was conducting a member survey to inform programming, and I think that’s more relevant than ever. Another was expanding event access for a low participation community, so doing outreach to folks who haven’t necessarily been in the MMANC world. Our last goal was to create and provide digital content, and since we no longer have a choice but to communicate digitally it looks like we are going to innovate!

The other thing we would like to do this year is centralize our credential government leader program and create a rollout for program oversight. The program is a collaboration between a bunch of different people and organizations. It’s in partnership with our friends at MMASC and Cal-ICMA but perhaps we take the roll back and focus on sort of making that our hallmark. It’s something that we’ve done for a long time that a lot of people don’t know about and I think that’s something we can absolutely do remotely.

What are some of the challenges you faced while at the organization? What work are you most proud of?

I think the Public Safety Power Shut Off and the COVID responses would have to be both something I am proud of and something that has been challenging. I started my job as Assistant City Manager on September 30, and started as MMANC president this past January.

At MMANC we want to improve membership communication and learn more about what works for our members, whether that’s email, social media, or whatever else. For 70 years MMANC has been set up to be an in-person organization, so learning how to bring that online and figuring out what that will look like is going to take time. We have been planning some webinars, virtual happy hours, and more, but all of those events take time, and all of our members are volunteers with full time jobs and families.

We held a webinar last Wednesday that over 80 people on it, which tells me we’re providing content that’s relevant. I’m proud of how our board has come together to manage all of this in such a short period of time given their other commitments. I’m still very proud of being MMANC President, even if this was not the year I was expecting. It’s hard to feel reflective and appreciative in the middle of all of this, because everything is changing so quickly and I’m constantly re-evaluating whether or not I am doing a good job and servicing our membership.

How does working for Novato help you be a leader at MMANC? 

Novato is a dynamic City to work for and it’s taught me to be nimble and flexible – and that has certainly been the case for MMANC as well this year. This is not the year any of us predicted, so I’m just doing my hardest to make sure that my board feels supported during this time.

How does your work with MMANC benefit your work at the City?

MMANC is all about building your network and making connections with other cities. Because we don’t have intellectual property rights in public service, it’s the perfect place to go and collaborate in ways you can’t really do in the private sector.

When someone at the City of Novato asks me a question or wants to implement a new program, I have a network of 650 people that I can call and say, “Hey, I think you guys did something awesome related to this. Can I borrow your documentation?” It’s made me a better public servant because I have a network of people who are ready to support me, provide documentation, answer questions, and fill me in on any lessons learned from their process so that we can do it a little better each time.

You also work for the City of Novato as an Assistant City Manager. Can you tell me more about your role there?

As Assistant City Manager, I am tasked with oversight in internal and external functions including human resources, information technology, communications, parks and recreation and business liaison to the chamber and downtown association. With these responsibilities, there really isn’t a department I don’t work with so I get to see the city from a really comprehensive view. I have an awesome team and I get to work on a department head team that I am really proud of. I also live in town, and serving the community that I live in is also really satisfying.