A year has finally passed since the initial shutdown of our economy, school system, and government offices.
In Springfield we have heard from an independent auditor on the Springfield Police Department’s responses to one of the demonstrations that turned violent in Thurston. We have a newly appointed mayor, a newly appointed city councilor and newly elected city councilor, newly elected SUB board member, and newly elected Springfield School District board members.
In the midst of all of these storm winds of change we also have a new city manager, who hired a new assistant city manager. To be clear, the “newly hired” assistant city manager has been on the Springfield City staff for some time, and is a seasoned, skilled leader knowledgeable of the intricacies of working within the infrastructure of Springfield’s ecosystem.
The city manager is new – brand new. But make no mistake – Nancy Newton is not new to leadership. On the contrary, she has a leadership resume that extends far beyond the requirements of her current position.
She is not new to Oregon, and hails from Corbett, Ore., whose population is approximately 2,300. It was there, on her family farm, that she learned what leadership really looked like. It was there, on the farm, and working at her father’s optometry shop – providing customer service to clients – that she acquired the disciplines necessary to weather the storms of life.
Not only is Nancy the youngest of five children, but her father and his four brothers all served in the U.S. military during World War II. She is a byproduct of parents who were part of the “greatest generation” in American history.
“We learned a Depression-era value system that taught us service to our country and community,” she said. She also learned the value of hard work on the family farm, where they raised beef cattle and hay. They took their cattle for showing at the Oregon State Fair annually. She said her favorite farm animal was one of the cows. She also stated her least-favorite animals were the geese as they could be really ornery!
She grew up with the standard farm chores ever since she can remember, until her father sold the cattle when she was 8 or 9 years old. Of course, there were still the chickens and horses to care for afterward.
Nancy said that in her childhood, “working hard on the family farm is where I learned about life and death with the animals.” She bottle-fed many of the calves. She experienced the coyotes coming for the calves and killing the livestock. She learned firsthand the harshness of the cold Columbia Gorge winds and the brutality of nature. It wasn’t all a sense of loss. Nancy learned to connect deeply with the animals.
“On the farm, you learn to make things work,” she said. “You have to learn to rig up for repairs on the spot.” One of her chores was to start a fire in the wood stove when she got home from school. This included chopping the wood and kindling for the fire to warm up the house. All of this before she turned 10.
Nancy graduated to a new level of responsibility when, at 12 years of age, she started to work in her father’s optometry shop. She greeted customers, escorted them to their appointments, and took their payments. Her mom handled the required administrative work for the business.
Her parents met at church while her dad was attending the New England School of Optometry at the time.
They had five children, and her father has recently retired. He worked until he was 89. Her mom, who has passed away, continued to work into her late 70s.
Nancy moved to Canada for a brief time after she turned 18, and returned to Oregon.
“I always had intellectual curiosity. I read things not assigned to me in school. I wanted to know things,” she explained. She knew she had to make her way in the world.
Her work history is extensive. Her exposure is broad and vast. What I learned about Nancy is that more than these great experiences, she also worked as a waitress and dishwasher during college to pay her way. This struck me more than the breadth of her professional development.
“I learned to appreciate the service industry even more,” she says. She grew up working hard. She knew sacrifice and dedication. Yet, in her continuing leadership development, this is the part of her story that stood out.
Nancy ultimately went on to work for Sacramento County as the County CEO, where she managed a $4.4 billion budget and 12,200 employees. In this position she managed multiple crises. One was a high-profile law enforcement incident with the sheriff’s department – the Tayshaun Clark killing where deputies mistook his cell phone for a weapon and shot him.
The other was the Paradise, Calif., fire. She distinctly remembers, “There was no capacity to handle the deceased.” The county coroner tried to support identification of the remains of the deceased. In this position she also learned to come to the table with 39 bargaining units. She approached this by ensuring everyone was given “interest and space” where common goals could be heard and where productive meetings could be held.
“I drew from my values. I kept my commitments. I did my best. I had to have courage. I had to have the ability to make the hard decisions. I had to stand behind those hard decisions and give context,” she said.
Newton said she believes in giving people enough information so they can feel good about the work. She has a fundamental belief that people work better with information.
This is only a small portion of the history of our new city manager. She came to us in April 2020 after the city had shut down due to COVID-19. The City workforce had already transitioned to online facilitation. She has worked the entire last year with only two other people in her offices and has had to contend with economic shutdown, social unrest, the sudden resignation of the mayor, school shutdowns, managing the city staff and ensuring a fully functioning city government.
She hired an independent auditor to examine the police department’s responses to the unrest from this past summer. She has seen our police chief retire. She has hired an interim police chief. Newton has had to facilitate ongoing communication with our elected city councilors while all of these events were ongoing. Not to mention the Holiday Farm Fire and all those stresses placed upon our city infrastructure.
Our City is truly in capable hands with her at the helm. I encourage you to take the time to visit the City’s website and welcome her.
Mark A. Molina is founder/owner of Molina Leadership Solutions. He is a regular contributor to The Chronicle’s Opinion page.