Inspired by our Women in Business special section, running this week on pages 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14, we at the Valley Record wanted to highlight another group of businesswomen, those in local government. Maybe government is a business, maybe it’s not quite that, as our featured subjects agree, but there’s no question that the business of government is not like any other work.
This week, we feature Snoqualmie’s Jodi Warren and North Bend’s Londi Lindell. Warren’s counterpart in North Bend is City Clerk Susie Oppedal. Lindell’s counterpart in Snoqualmie is City Administrator Bob Larson.
“Every citizen in our community is making an investment in our community,” said Snoqualmie City Clerk Jodi Warren, who’s been with the city for 21 years. Citizens invest in the city when they buy a house there, shop there, “paying taxes, and voting — that’s a big one,” says Warren, “so in that sense, I guess we would be a business.”
If it’s a business, it’s one with “the most interesting clients you can have,” said North Bend City Administrator Londi Lindell.
She has been with the city for five years, and in government since 1990. Prior to that, she worked as an attorney and a real-estate developer. When her friend and mentor Carolyn Lake asked her to sign on as the city of Federal Way’s deputy city attorney, Lindell made the transition and never looked back.
“I loved it, I was there almost 10 years. I loved city government, it was so much more interesting than practicing law… and it feels like you’re really doing something of value. If you buy a park, and then you see all these people going to this park, and you see communities having little league games and families coming out and picnicking… You do something with this lasting impact, that citizens can enjoy for years and years to come. When can you do that in any other job? It’s very, very rewarding.”
Changes over time
Warren has seen her city grow almost exponentially since her start as deputy clerk treasurer, under Mayor Jeanne Hansen. She came on as Snoqualmie Ridge Phase 1 development was starting, and has served under three mayors, Hansen, Fuzzy Fletcher, and Matt Larson, and she’s watched the population surge.
“When I was hired in June of 1996… it was around 1,610,” she recalled. Now with about 13,000 people, Snoqualmie is both a city and a small town. “When I came here, and it’s still like that a lot, people would come in to city hall to connect. It’s how we stayed in touch with, we call them ‘our people,’” Warren said. In her role as city clerk, she is often the liaison between the public and the mayor and other elected officials, in addition to record management, volunteer coordination, elections coordination and managing the mayor’s schedule.
“I’m the personal assistant to Mayor Larson… I take care of our mayor and he is very accessible,” Warren said. Pointing at a calendar program on a computer, she notes that all of the appointments are for the mayor. “See how booked up his calendar gets? And right now he is meeting with 100 third graders up at Timber Ridge Elementary, teaching them about government.”
Meeting the challenge
Lindell has not seen her city transformed as Snoqualmie was, but a period of growth for the city is still on the horizon, and not so distant these days. Nearly 800 homes are in some phase of the city’s planning and permitting process, and some citizens are very publicly opposing growth in general, along with several specific housing projects.
It’s a challenging time for city officials and staff, especially for Lindell, whose role, along with the Mayor’s, is to implement the policy set forth by the elected City Council. And the challenges are good and bad.
With such a diverse group of council members, she said, she has to work hard to be sure she clearly understands the council’s desires and intentions, so that she can build a path to accomplishing their goals.
It requires a lot of meetings, work studies and follow up phone calls and is just plan hard at times, she admits. “But I find it really interesting and fun to try to get it right,” she said.
That’s the good kind of challenge. So is the work to build, and at times justify the location of, a replacement city hall, which will give all city staff “a safe and professional working environment, that they can be proud to come to work at,” she said.
So is finding the plan for the future North Bend, the one that allows growth that fits the city’s culture, although it’s proving to be more than just hard.
“We are sure what we don’t want,” she explained, “but we know North Bend is unique. I’ll say it, we’re special, and we haven’t seen anything that quite matches what we do want.”
And Lindell takes issue with social media accusations that city officials are ignoring their citizens’ requests.
“I’ve never met an elected official who doesn’t care what their constituents want,” she said, “it’s why they run for office…. they all have the same plan, they want to make North Bend a better place.”
Here to stay
Warren admits that aspects of her job are frustrating, too, such as juggling all the responsibilities of her very diverse job — especially public records requests, which can quickly overwhelm a small city staff.
“Even though they try, you can’t let public records (requests) interfere with city business,” she said.
At the end of her occasionally very long days, though, Warren says, “I feel blessed and honored every day to be able to serve,” and although she is mentoring her replacement for the day she retires, she says “I can do this a while longer.”
Lindell, too, circles back to being able to make a difference in her work in government. She is also mentoring a future city administrator for when she leaves the city, which will be her retirement.
“This is my last job,” she said. “This is a pretty good way to end my career, because this feels like a high note.”