Building healthy, safe communities has been a primary focus for new Phoenix City Manager Jamie McLeod since her childhood spent in Africa.
At age 9, McLeod’s mother took a teaching job in Tanzania. Moving from Wisconsin to Africa had a profound effect, says McLeod.
“I grew up with tremendous adversity (in Africa),” says McLeod. Refugees fleeing the Idi Amin regime in Uganda poured into Tanzania and Kenya, where McLeod also lived.
“It very profoundly shaped my senses of ethical government, of governments that care for people.”
McLeod came to Ashland in 1985 for her last two years of high school, where she was co-captain of the first girls soccer team and still holds the school record in the 800-meter dash. Her mother, Marty McLeod-Eng, was a substitute teacher in the district.
In college, she decided to pursue engineering.
“I thought civil engineering would help me to do more things and to take care of my family,” says McLeod. “It was a way to be an active doer on this Earth.”
After a couple of jobs in upstate New York, she applied to go back to Kenya through the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid organization. The day she received a letter saying she wasn’t accepted, she got a call from the IRC asking whether she wanted to go to the Balkans at the time of massive unrest and persecution of ethnic groups in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
“I saw folks who were just decimated,” McLeod remembers. Some groups were demonized by the international community. She ended up in Serbia, which got the least aid of all parties, she says. While in the area she engineered and managed water and rebuilding projects.
McLeod says when the ethnic atrocities started to appear to make sense, she knew, as a humanitarian, it was time to leave. She had been raised in the Quaker tradition. She returned to the Bay Area in 1998 and was offered a job by IRC as a regional resettlement director.
“I’m an engineer; this is social work,” she told the group. But the organizers insisted she could do the job. She worked with refugees, setting up English as second language programs and helping them adapt to their new country. Then from 2000 to 2002, she worked with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, working to build up its program capacity. That experience led her to work as an organizational effectiveness management analyst for Sunnyvale, California.
She worked as a senior planner for Sunnyvale from 2003 to 2008, then spent the next six years as an environmental planner with the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
McLeod wanted to be on the Planning Commission in Santa Clara, where she lived, but appointments kept going to others. An assemblywoman from her district suggested she run for the City Council.
“I had no idea how politics worked," McLeod recalls. "It never occurred to me to run for office.” But a grassroots campaign with door-to-door efforts got her elected. McLeod found herself involved in the process that led to the 49ers building Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.
“That one kind of blindsided me,” says McLeod. There was a battle in the community and she wanted to ensure that city resources were protected in the partnership. At times it put her at odds with others, but she fought to correct what might become a “bad deal.” In the middle of the stadium debate, she won re-election to her council seat.
Earlier in this decade, McLeod realized that it’s the rules and laws that determine what can be done, she says.
“You can have ideas and power, but ultimately you are controlled by the rules,” says McLeod.
That led to three years of studying water law at the University of Oregon, where she completed her degree this year. She wanted to settle in either Southern or Central Oregon for a better quality of life when the Phoenix post opened.
With the city reworking its downtown, getting ready to develop 453 acres north of town and tackling water issues, it’s an exciting time, says McLeod. One of her first priorities in the New Year will be goal setting with the City Council, which will have three new members.
Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.