Finding her groove: Claremont assistant city manager’s meteoric rise
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
People love a good “bootstraps” success story, and while not a rags to riches narrative per se, Assistant City Manager Jamie Earl’s ascension to city hall has nonetheless been meteoric.
In August 2010 Earl was 20 and had just returned to her native Chino Hills following two years at San Jose State University. Pondering the next stage of her life, an acquaintance suggested she apply to be a senior recreational leader in Claremont.
“I was already back working at my high school job [Applebee’s in Chino], but I was interested in adding a second part-time job while I attended Cal State Fullerton,” Earl said.
The interview must have gone well, because soon she was sitting behind the reception desk at the Hughes Center helping people sign up for contract class and facility rentals and preparing the various meeting rooms for community groups.
“I definitely filled in everywhere,” she said.
As Earl explains it, everyone in the Human Services Department participated in the preparation and implementation of special events such as Fourth of July and the holiday promenade. These tasks served as Earl’s introduction into the workings of local government, which she found appealing.
In August 2012 she moved into a full-time position as the city’s special events coordinator, taking on more of a lead role in Claremont’s many public events. The job introduced the then 22-year-old to “council relations” due in part to the necessity of ensuring that Claremont City Council members were in the right place at the right time during these events. She also helped the city’s elected officials craft the remarks they made to the public.
Around that same time, Earl earned a bachelor’s degree in health science from California State University, Fullerton. Although she enjoyed the many tasks in her new job, upon graduation she pictured herself becoming an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or perhaps attending nursing school.
But as time passed, the idea of staying in civil service started to take hold. She found she enjoyed the many tasks in special events, a job where “you are making so many people happy.” That is when Earl figured that government, specifically in Claremont, was where she wanted to be.
In August 2014 the city created a new management analyst position in community development and Earl was eager to give it a try.
Working with former community development director Brian Desatnik, Earl began to deal more directly with policy, including Claremont’s Inclusionary Housing Program, and making presentations during City Council meetings.
“Community development I would say was dipping my toes in the water of the city hall side of things,” Earl said. “I liked that and knew I was a good fit for it, working closely with the director. Being someone’s right hand felt natural to me.”
Her next move, perhaps not surprisingly, came in August 2016 when she became the senior management analyst in then City Manager Tony Ramos’ office. The job was a lot more project-based, and included taking on programs that didn’t fit in other departments, picking up the slack if another office was short-staffed, and overseeing the budget and day-to-day finances of the city manager’s office.
“Those were very busy years that were heavy in projects, [including] the affordable housing agreement for the Base Line development and working on the original al fresco program,” Earl said.
From there she was promoted to assistant to the city manager in December 2017, and in November 2020 became the acting assistant city manager when Colin Tudor left. She earned the permanent role in March 2021.
With such an important job came a lot of responsibility, and the rewards of the position are offset by the many challenges. Earl said it comes down to establishing a balance, whether it be other people’s expectations, including the public’s, or different levels of government.
“In addition to balancing the myriad of regulations and legislation from different levels of government, I think one of the challenges is managing resources and priorities of everyone my position serves — the City Council, the city manager, the community, all of our staff — especially when those priorities or expectations maybe don’t always align,” Earl said. “I came to the realization early on in my current position that you may not necessarily make everyone happy at the same time, but I am motivated by the challenge and feel accomplished when we can come to a consensus or at the least a compromise.”
When Earl is not at work, which takes up most of her waking hours, she likes to spend time at the beach near the Costa Mesa home she shares with her husband, Mike Earl. They also enjoy the desert and boating on the Colorado River.
“I also like to read, when I have time, which typically only happens when I’m on vacation, spend time with my 3-year-old nephew Hudson, travel with my husband, listen to podcasts, and I do have a paddleboard, which I hope to use more this year and when it heats up a little,” Earl said.
In the year ahead Earl would like to wrap up the affordable housing project on Base Line Road that she helped craft when she was a senior management analyst. In addition, she would like to see the city fund improvements to the police station, specifically the women’s locker room, which she described as being completely inadequate. She would also like to find ways to support the city’s employees, perhaps through reinstating training that was cut due to tight budgets.
“We are a slim organization, so everyone wears a lot of hats,” Earl said. “It’s rewarding to see people grow. I obviously have grown through this organization, so have a lot of others. We have a lot of long-term employees and they are so dedicated to the Claremont community.”
As a parting shot, the Courier asked Earl what she enjoys about working for Claremont.
“Serving the community in general gives me joy, but I also wanted to mention that in the hustle of the usual work day, I sometimes get unexpected calls or messages from community members either praising our staff or just wanting to learn more about a program, or even a Boy Scout doing a project who calls for a quick phone interview. Those calls aren’t a daily occurrence, but they are some of my favorite times and bring me a lot of joy and even sometimes bring back into perspective why I’m here and how fortunate I am to serve the community,” she said.