Spotlight on African-American County Department Leaders

[raw]

Introduction

In celebration of Black History Month, Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas asked African-American Los Angeles County department heads to share what they love most about their jobs, who inspired them and what have been their biggest professional challenges. Los Angeles County now has the most African-American executives in its history. They lead the departments of Human Resources, Public Social Services, Community and Senior Services and Consumer Affairs, as well as the Office of the Public Defender, the Civil Service Commission, and the County Fire Department. Below they discuss their day-to-day responsibilities and successes, and provide advice to young professionals.

Cynthia Banks, Community and Senior Services

Q.      What are your main responsibilities?

A.      In the role of Director of Community and Senior Services, I have responsibility for the oversight, support and advocacy for community programs that support residents who are in need of employment services, crisis intervention, an array of senior services and other community-based programs.  As an advocate, I work with the Board of Supervisors to provide community services that are meaningful and enhance the quality of life.  As an example, our Senior/Community Centers provide  residents with educational and recreational opportunities, hot and nutritious lunches, and a variety of information and referral services.  We also intervene to assist adults who may be the victims of financial or physical abuse.

Q.      What do you love most about your job?

A.      Knowing that the work that our department does has a personal impact on the people we serve.  As examples, we remove individuals out of harm’s way, reduce gang violence and empower the community to embrace cultural diversity.  Through our contracted providers, we find jobs for residents of all ages, help resolve disputes/avoiding court situations, and for our most vulnerable—our seniors—provide meals, legal services, respite care for caregivers, and a variety of support services to help seniors live independently in their own homes.  

Q.      Who most inspired you in your journey toward success?


A.
      There have been many people who have given of themselves to allow me to get to the place where I am today.  I still remember my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Loving, who encouraged each of his students to do the best they can and to understand that there is more than one way to do something right.  Also, to know that to have the future that you desire you must first see that future and plan for it.

Q.      What was your favorite college class and why?

A.     Statistics was my favorite class.  In statistics we learned how to gather data to make a case for a point of view or a decision.  Having the basic knowledge in statistics and the philosophy behind statistics has allowed me to understand that there are different variables that contribute to a successful outcome.

Q.      Professionally, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome?

A.      As I look back over my career, the biggest challenge was to garner the trust of my colleagues and subordinates as I moved from the Court system to the County.  I worked for 23 years in the Superior Court and understood the dynamics, both subtle and not so subtle.  Upon coming to the County I had to learn a new culture, a new organizational structure and a new political climate.  Along the way I have learned a number of lessons and know that it is OK to make mistakes, but it is imperative that you not hide behind them and that you are open to the other ways of thinking.

Q.      What is the last book you read?

A.      Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith.  It is a book in a series based upon a women’s life in Botswana who owns a detective agency.  Enjoyment of the book came because the life of the heroine was so different from my life.  However, I found that although her life was different, she and I both needed to do our jobs well and to have a balanced life.

Q.      What advice do you have for young people who aspire to hold your position one day?

A.      First, my advice would be not to set your ultimate career goals too early in life. You never know what opportunities may come your way. If you have already established your goals at a young age, you may be reluctant to take on a new opportunity. Second, get to know, engage with, and enjoy people who are different from you. Having the ability to interact with all kinds of people, all personality types, will enhance your ability to lead all personality types. Third, understand that leading must include being a servant. I know that I have to be willing to do anything that my staff does without any qualms. Lastly, know your audience at all times and always tell the truth.


Ronald L. Brown, Public Defender

Q.    What are your main responsibilities?

A.     I am responsible for managing the largest criminal defense firm in the nation, with over 1,000 staff members including attorneys, paralegals, investigators, clerical and social workers.

Q.    What do you love most about your job?

A.     I love watching the enthusiasm exhibited by our staff because of their zeal for justice.

Q.     Who inspired you in your journey toward success?

A.      My mother inspired me in my journey toward success.  She raised a family of six kids on welfare.  She saw the value of an education and insisted that all of her children make the most of every opportunity.

Q.      What was your favorite college class and why?

A.      I loved every history class I ever had because each one taught me the folly of arrogance and proved to me that those who fought for freedom ultimately succeeded.

Q.      Professionally, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome?

A.      Convincing a jury of 12 strangers that my client’s taking of the life of another was justifiable and obtaining a not guilty verdict so that he could go home to his family as the innocent man I knew him to be.

Q.      What is the last book you read?

A.      Trail by Fire by J.A. Jance

Q.       What advice do you have for young people who aspire to hold your position one day?

A.      Hard work and dedication will be noticed whether you realize this or not.  Never give less than 100% in all of your endeavors.



Lawrence D. Crocker III, Civil Service Commission

Q.        What are your main responsibilities?
A.       I manage all personnel, administrative, and budgetary matters related to the operations of the Civil Service Commission. The commission serves as the administrative appellate body for employees who have received major disciplinary actions, such as discharges, reductions, suspensions in excess of five days, as well as appeals of the scored portions of employment examinations. I also manage the commission’s agenda and hearing dockets, schedule evidentiary hearings, and issue notices, subpoenas, and orders. I serve as the administrator of the contracts between the County of Los Angeles and the 30+ consultants serving as hearing officers for the commission.

Q.        What do you love most about your job?

A.        What I love most is the day-to-day interaction with various parties, including employee, advocates, and Department representatives. The commission receives between 400 and 500 petitions for hearing each year, so there is a constant buzz in the office with people appearing for hearings, filing appeals, contacting the office with procedural questions.

Q.        Who inspired you in your journey toward success?

A.        I was inspired by my mother, who, with two small children, completed her college decree and later her master’s degree. She worked as a special education teacher and instilled in me the desire to serve my fellow citizens.

Q.        What was your favorite college class and why?

A.        My favorite class was a philosophy class entitled “Radical Thought.” The class gave me an appreciation for the opinions and beliefs of others, even if different from my own.

Q.        Professionally, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome?

A.        The biggest challenge is finding a way to address the desires of many stakeholders.  Ultimately, all sides cannot obtain the results they desire, but as long as you are honest and fair, people will respect your efforts.

Q.        What is the last book you read?

A.        The last book I read was Sitting with Warrior, by Carl Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens is a Marine Corps veteran and the book is about his journey dealing with his Vietnam War experience.

Q.        What advice do you have for young people who aspire to hold your position one day?

A.        The most important thing is to always strive to know all you can about your job and the mission of your department or business. In addition, don’t be afraid to tell your superiors that you don’t know the answer to a question, but make sure that you find out the answer as quickly as possible; this will demonstrate honesty and drive. Also, don’t let stumbles along the way stop you. Remember, it’s not how you start the race that matters, rather it is how you finish it.



Lisa M. Garrett, Human Resources

Q.        What are your main responsibilities?  

A.        As Director of Personnel, I have the privilege of recruiting, hiring, retaining and developing the County’s talented and diverse workforce of approximately 100,000 employees.

Q.        What do you love most about your job?

A.        I enjoy developing new programs to benefit our employees, assisting in the hiring of top talent and being able to influence policy that will serve to advance our local and state governments. I also love working with my colleagues in my department and the county.

Q.        Who most inspired you in your journey toward success?

A.        My Inglewood High School English teacher, Mary Reese Boykin, inspired me most. When I was in 9th grade, she saw my potential and encouraged me to take honors classes, required me to engage in public speaking and inspired me to settle for nothing short of excellence. Over the years, I have been inspired by several trailblazing strategists including, but not limited to Marian Wright Edelman, Tom Bradley, Gilbert Lindsay, Yvonne B. Burke and Mark Ridley-Thomas and, of course, President Barack Obama.

Q.        What was your favorite college class and why?

A.        I do not recall a favorite course in college. My favorite course in law school, however, was about real property. I enjoyed the course content and won the American Jurisprudence Book Award!

Q.        Professionally, what is the biggest challenge you have you had to overcome?

A.        Professionally, my biggest challenges have come from within myself and my own drive to excel in each of the positions I have been privileged to hold.

Q.        What is the last book you read?

A.        I recently finished the biography of Paul Volcker, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Q.        What advice do you have for young people who aspire to hold your position one day?

A.        My advice to young people is to pursue excellence through higher education, public service, devotion to God and integrity in character.  Be as eager to serve as you are to lead. 



Daryl L. Osby, Fire Department

Q.        What are your main responsibilities?

A.        I am primarily responsible for ensuring that on a daily basis, I, as well as all of my personnel, execute the Fire Department’s mission and maintain the highest level of customer service to those we serve. As the fire chief, I continuously engage in strategic planning efforts to ensure adherence to our vision and the County of Los Angeles’ vision and philosophies. My strategic efforts include positively influencing others and the culture of the organization; working collaboratively with essential stakeholders at local, State and federal levels to ensure the longevity and protection of the department’s present and future interests via proper budgeting, revenues, and legislation.

Q.        What do you love most about your job?

A.        The challenge. The job of a fire chief has many unknowns and is different each day. While many matters are routine or at least predictable, many issues that rise to my level are challenging and have complex consequences. It is through these unforeseeable events that I am better able to grow as a fire chief and sharpen my strategic planning skills as well as continuously detect the areas within the organization that need further development.

Q.        Who most inspired you in your journey toward success?

A.        My parents, with special attention being paid to my grandmothers. Growing up, my grandmothers always instilled in me the necessity to do my best. They continuously talked about their struggles and reminded me of the several opportunities I had to advance in my education, career and self-growth. Above all, my parents instilled me the discipline of a strong work ethic and integrity to stay true to my principles.

In addition to my parents and grandmothers, I have two daughters who inspire me to be a better person every day, to be a role model to them, and have the courage to do the right thing.

Q.        What was your favorite college class and why?

A.        Theology. In theology class, I took special notice to biblical teachings that encouraged love, justice, honesty, compassion, commitment and sacrifice. Upon reflection, I learned that these characteristics described the ideal person and leader. Interestingly, several of these attributes are also the core values of the fire department and, therefore, on a daily basis, as a reference the teachings provide a template enabling me to be a better facilitator, fire chief, and leader.

Q.        Professionally, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome?

A.        Learning that I cannot do it all myself. Success requires teamwork. Throughout the progression of my career, I noticed that with each promotion came increasing responsibility. With that responsibility came more work, and although I wanted do everything myself, I recognized my limitations. I decided that rather than control the assignments, I would be better served in effectively communicating my goals and objectives to my staff, and mentoring and developing my personnel to execute the project as a team. Despite the discomfort of having to relinquish control over how the work was produced, through humility, I learned to trust and allow my team to manage the project while I continued to lead and ensure completion and successful outcomes.

Q.        What is the last book you read?

A.        Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them by Max H. Bazerman and Michael D. Watkins. This book is relevant to my position as the fire chief as it showed me that even the best-run companies can get blindsided by disasters they should have anticipated. These predictable surprises range from financial scandals to operational disruptions, from organizational upheavals to product failures. This book gave me the tools to identify and manage risk by understanding and lowering the psychological, organizational and political barriers that prevented me from foreseeing calamity.

Q.        What advice do you have for young people who aspire to hold your position one day?

A.        Dream big, develop a plan, execute the plan and each year accomplish something that significantly impacts your professional growth. Also, don’t forget to continue to grow as a person. Be honest, do the right thing, and good things will happen.

Sheryl Spiller, Public Social Services

Q.      What are your main responsibilities?

A.      I plan, organize and direct all operations of the department; the second largest locally-operated social services agency in the nation, with an annual budget of $3.5 billion, over 13,500 employees and 67 facilities. I administer programs that provide a vast array of social services that are designed to alleviate financial hardship and to promote health, personal responsibility and economic self-sufficiency.

Q.      What do you love most about your job?

A.      I enjoy the people that I work with and the opportunity to positively influence the lives of so many individuals.

Q.      Who most inspired you in your journey toward success? 

A.      Many people have inspired me, but foremost was my father, who always told me I’d be successful, as well as my brothers, who modeled success. Also, I had many mentors throughout my career whose advice and guidance led me to succeed.

Q.      What was your favorite college class and why?

A.      Psychology courses were my favorite, because they offered insight into how we think and why we do the things we do.

Q.      Professionally, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome? 

A.      The biggest challenge has been changing the culture of a large, silo-oriented organization to one that values diversity, teamwork, transparency and the contributions of employees at every level of the organization.

Q.      What is the last book you read?

A.      The last book I read was How to Lead & Still Have a Life: the 8 Principles of Less is More Leadership by H. Dale Burke, which I read again and again and The Creativity Cure: A Do-it-Yourself Prescription for Happiness by Carrie Barron and Alton Barron.

Q.      What advice do you have for young people who aspire to hold your position one day?

A.      Always do your very best, every day, regardless of what’s happening around you and to follow the Golden Rule of always treating others the way you’d like to be treated.



Brian J. Stiger, Department of Consumer Affairs

Q.        What are your main responsibilities?

A.        My job is to implement the consumer protection polices adopted by the Board of Supervisors through consumer education, counseling, complaint resolution, and complaint investigation. I lead a team of professionals who are dedicated to protecting consumers from identity theft, real estate fraud, abusive debt collectors, scam artists, dishonest businesses and many other crimes. We work closely with city, county, state, and federal prosecutors to remove bad actors from the marketplace and, most importantly, we help victims recover and reclaim their lives.

Q.        What do you love most about your job?

A.        I believe that effective consumer protection strengthens communities and improves the quality of life for everyone. I’m thankful to have a job that offers me many opportunities each day to make a positive difference.

Q.        Who most inspired you in your journey toward success?

A.        My parents, Joseph and Patricia Stiger, encouraged and inspired me to enjoy my work and to work hard. They were great examples for me growing up and well into my adult life. I’m blessed to still have them.

Q.        What was your favorite college class and why?

A.        Freshman English was my favorite college class because it improved my critical thinking skills more than any other class.

Q.        Professionally, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome? 

A.        The last few years working in the public sector have been very challenging, due to the economic crisis. In a world of shrinking budgets and fewer resources, we needed to find new and innovative ways to protect consumers, renew old partnerships make new partnerships, and leverage resources with our colleagues from city, state and federal governments.

Q.        What is the last book you read?

A.        Start With Why by Simon Sinek. I had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Sinek explain his concept of “the Golden Circle” at a conference and purchased his book the next day. I highly recommend this book for anyone in a leadership position or thinking of becoming a leader.

Q.        What advice do you have for young people who aspire to hold your position one day?

A.        First, the individual must have a passion for helping people solve problems and understand the role and responsibility of a consumer protection agency. I would advise young people to consider earning college degrees in public administration or government. Seek out paid or unpaid opportunities to learn a variety of administrative skills, including public sector budgeting, legislative advocacy, and public policy. Keep current on consumer protection issues in California and on a national level. Gain extensive management and leadership skills and experience and find a successful public sector executive who is willing to serve as a mentor.  


[/raw]