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Leadership Connect was thrilled to participate in ICMA – International City/County Management Association’s 2022 Equity Summit. The two-day virtual learning event focused on advancing racial equity in local government. We convened a panel of dynamic speakers for the “Breaking the Barriers: Pathways for Success” break-out session.   

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Moderated by Leadership Connect’s, Carmela Makabali, the session featured success stories from their personal journeys related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). While their stories are unique each speaker shared how relationship building was the foundation to their success. 

Quick Tips: 

  • Stay the course – create the vision, follow the plan and don’t let the doubters deter you.
  • You can’t do it alone – one voice isn’t enough, create a team across all levels of the organization.
  • Listen and lean on advisors from the community – external influencers can help guide the future of services.
  • Bring the leaders to the table – all stakeholders should have a voice. 


Tammi Saddler Jones, ICMA-CM, City Manager, South Fulton, Georgia 

Leading While Black & Female  

As the first black female City Manager in South Fulton, Georgia, Tammi’s journey to the City Manager seat had its share of barriers including, suggestions about being a department headfirst, while male peers were being appointed right out of MPA (Master of Public Administration) school and doubters along the way. After serving in her first local government position, she saw the opportunity to make an impact on communities and the profession chose her.  

Tammi’s success came from personal drive and determination. She turned struggles into opportunities to persevere by acting and creating “the Dream Team” of mentors, families and friends who helped her stay focused on her career growth and mission to be the best in her public servant role.  

From the conversation, she shared a few key takeaways:   

  • Stay the course – do not let anyone make you feel that you are not worthy of your career!  
  • Network – stay active and join professional organizations ICMA, State Associations, your alumni network. 
  • Continual Learning – Get credentialed.
  • Volunteer – Participate in the ICMA Fellowship Program. 

Tammi’s journey supports Leadership Connect’s data sample review that women are often told they need to hold department head or Assistant/Deputy City Managers positions before being a leader as a City Manager.  


Previous Position  F    M    Total  % 
Assistant/Deputy  54  51%  98  35%  152  40% 
City/County Manager  10  10%  51  18%  61  16% 
Director  17  16%  42  15%  59  15% 
Acting/Interim  13  12%  38  14%  51  13% 
Other  11  10%  48  17%  59  21% 

David Ellis, County Manager, Wake County, NC 

A Better Wake! 

Like Tammi, David was a “first” for the county. As the first non-white male leading the county, his story made the news, and he hit the ground running in the new role by listening to his team at all levels. As he heard the ideas for transforming the county, he built the plan and created a DEI position, but then COVID hit and the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder.   

The position was redirected but became an opportunity to engage staff at all levels. The change challenged the team to develop a plan to build Champions within each department. Working with GARE, the teams began embedding DEI into the organization fiber to ensure long-term success. In November 2021, Danya Perry was hired as the first DEI Director.  

Those suggestions from county staff led to the vision for A Better Wake. Community partnerships shaped A Better Wake, with a blueprint focused on Criminal Justice, Economic Mobility, Education Equity, and Health Equity. The concept started with a collection of leaders from a diverse cross-section of organizations – all with the desire to address racism and dismantle any systems that negatively impact black and brown residents. 

David shared many success stories including: 

  • You can’t do it alone; initiatives are not sustainable with just one or two people. Surround yourself with champions. 
  • Be clear on what you want to accomplish. 
  • Hire with a DEI lens. 
  • Partnerships – pull together resources and subject matter experts to help support your goals. 

Leadership Connect’s sample data identified ninety three cities exmploy DEI focused positions with one third having more than one person focused on DEI.

Chris Price, City Manager, Chesapeake, VA 

Diversity as Core Value & Forward Chesapeake 

After a successful Community and Economic Development career, Chris was appointed City Manager in September 2019. His first few months were focused on learning and discovery, but the pandemic hit, and it was about managing daily crises without losing sight of the long-term opportunities and challenges facing the community. He and his team worked with City Council to reaffirm the City’s vision, clarify the organization’s values, develop a strategic plan to serve as a roadmap for the City’s future, and develop strategic anchors to guide decision making.

In June 2020, Dr. Wanda Barnard-Bailey (Deputy City Manager) was designated as the City’s first Chief Equity Officer. Throughout the pandemic, she devoted time to advancing the Strategic Plan, including a focus on the intersection of the Strategic Plan and DEI. DEI isn’t a thing we do; it’s how we do the things we do.

The strategic plan process allowed the City’s functional teams to focus on our desired outcomes and the strategies and tactics necessary to achieve those outcomes. Transparency, metrics, and community engagement were identified to help stay the course. With the discovery that Chesapeake City was listed as one of the Top 20 places for black entrepreneurs, they found it essential to focus on affordable housing while continuing to embrace and preserve history and share opportunities that are available in the schools and the community.

Chris shared his tips for success, including:

  • Make all decisions and treat all people in a manner consistent with your values
  • Improve transparency, e.g., provide visuals to help community residents see where investments are being made
  • Create mentoring and job shadowing programs to help staff learn about each other
  • Listen and lean on advisors from the community, e.g., Coalition of Black Pastors


Domenika Lynch, Executive Director, Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program (AILAS) 

Empowering Latino Communities 

Domenika Lynch is helping local Latino leaders reimagine power by increasing market value and market-making power in Latino communities. As a leader advocating for Latino advancement, she shared how cities and counties can maximize this once in a generation of the influx of federal dollars to dismantle systemic inequities and transform their local economies. 

Based on statistics, Latinos start more businesses than any other ethnicity. And as the second largest minority group, Latino economic empowerment is critical for the nation’s economic resilience and global competitiveness. 

Seizing the moment to equip underserved communities, the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program, in partnership with the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University, launched the City Learning and Action Lab in six cities with high Latino populations: Chicago, Miami, El Paso, San Antonio, Phoenix, and San Bernardino.  

The Aspen Lab brings communities together with experts and cross-sector leaders working toward Latino wealth creation. It prioritizes the urgency for cross-sector leaders to organize, coordinate and implement strategies to help Latino-owned businesses grow and create quality jobs. It is a bottom-up and community-informed approachempowering Latino leaders and entrepreneurs as problem solvers and innovators

Domenika shared that strategies for growth are dependent on collaboration and strategic action. Here are her key takeaways:

  • Know the Lay of the land and understand the local business ecosystem
  • Understand where power lies and democratize it through community building
  • Co-creation is the catalyst to ally-ship
  • Leverage public-private partnerships to accelerate action


DEI efforts in local entities are now commonplace. Each community shapes their own and works to make their leadership reflect the greatness of the places they live and work. Our esteemed panelist overcame challenges and still work to bring solutions. 

Featured Articles:

Tammi Saddler Jones

David Ellis

Chris Price

Domenika Lynch


To join our community of collaborators in Leadership Connect and grow your policymaking network, please contact Caitlin Blocker Harder. 

Juniper Thren

Senior Director - Non-Profits and Associations