From GC To Mayor: 5 Reasons To Say 'Yes!' To Local Government
“Do I have a responsibility to contribute? And do I have something positive to contribute?” Jill Hoffman, the co-founder, former general counsel, and CEO of Qorkz Wine (qorkz.com), asked herself one day. Now also a leader in her local community, Hoffman sees that day as the life-changing moment she decided to run for Sausalito City Council. And it was worth it! Hoffman was elected to the Sausalito City Council in 2014, receiving the greatest number of votes among three candidates for two seats, unseating one of two incumbents. She was selected by the City Council majority to serve as Vice Mayor for 2015, then as Mayor of Sausalito for 2016.
Hoffman believes that more women should take the leap into local government. “There are always many good reasons to not to participate in politics, primarily family and professional commitments” she says. “We need women to say ‘yes,’ participate, and lead. We add a lot to the table. Ultimately the reason you say yes to a candidacy is because you want your family and community to be heard.” Through Hoffman’s journey, she learned several good reasons to get involved in local government.
1. Tackle Difficult Challenges. Like most in-house counsel, upon getting elected, Hoffman quickly found herself solving challenges she hadn’t dealt with before. Unfazed, Hoffman decided to tackle better management the City’s pension fund debt, which is currently at approximately $22 million, and growing annually, for Sausalito government workers. “I felt that Sausalito wasn’t doing a good enough job to reduce this liability and I saw that it was coming out of our general budget,” Hoffman explains. Meaning there was less money for roads, parks and infrastructure. Although this is a difficult, ongoing issue, Hoffman was determined to tackle it. “I was looking for more aggressive, creative ways to pay off and reduce liability. We have taken some measures, but I would like to be more proactive in reducing the debt which is better for our community,” Hoffman adds.
2. Bring Innovation. Tourist management in Sausalito is a real challenge. “Depending on the weather, from March through October about 900 to 1,200 bikes descend on Sausalito from San Francisco daily,” says Hoffman. “It is a big burden for our small, historic, one-lane downtown district. Moreover, these riders are often inexperienced bikers, who are not familiar with our terrain. They are most definitely not as experienced as bicycle commuters or local recreational bikers.” Like a general counsel balancing the needs of various business units, Hoffman was determined to find an innovative solution that would benefit both tourists and residents.
Hoffman was instrumental in supporting a pro-active bicycle management plan, and Sausalito Plus, a nonprofit that manages this problem. In the process, she helped create about 30 seasonal jobs for teenagers and active seniors, who manage the bike flow. “The Sausalito Plus employees are trained in safety and first aid. They route people to designated paid parking,” she explains.
“We have been very innovative. We have a designated paid parking area where bikes can be parked in the downtown historic district. I know we are the first city in California, maybe even the U.S., that charges for rental bike parking, (locals park for free)” declares Hoffman. “I am very proud of that program. We created jobs with very little cost to the residents of Sausalito and we made substantial inroads to alleviating the underlying problem.” Hoffman’s work with Sausalito Plus is a great example of how politics can be used as a platform for innovation.
3. Modernize. “I was the youngest person on city council when I was elected. With my focus on tech and entrepreneurship, I have been focused on whether we are conducting our business in the best way possible,” says Hoffman. Hoffman is focused on bringing more modern business sense to the historic town of Sausalito. “I want to see more connection, higher quality, and lower overhead. I most certainly want to do more with less, yet be forward thinking and responsive to the needs of the residents” Hoffman declares. She has implemented modern techniques during her leadership. “We explored utilizing social media and technology to reach these efficacies. I love this ‘what if’ thinking for Sausalito,” she explains.
4. Change the Status Quo. “I was not involved in local politics before 2014 at all,” says Hoffman. Over a decade after moving to Sausalito, Hoffman found herself in the midst of local politics. The City wanted to rezone a small commercial district adjacent to her residential neighborhood to allow for high density development, which would have allowed concessions to the developer for view obstruction, parking allotment and setback. “We found ourselves disagreeing with the City of Sausalito,” she explains. “Since I was a litigation attorney and have a background in advocacy, I was the most obvious person in the group to advocate for our point of view.” Hoffman attended many city council meetings over the next three months, where she discovered other concerning issues. Eventually, a few people approached her to run. Hoffman truly prioritized the community and her support seemed wide and deep, so she decided to run. The experience was very different for Hoffman, but she enjoyed the process. “It was fun and exhilarating and I found myself doing things that I have never done before,” she explains. After going from citizen to mayor in two years, Hoffman is convinced that anyone can change their community for the better by getting involved with politics and challenging the established way of doing things.
5. Learn Something New. Hoffman also found herself managing issues that she never anticipated. For example, Richardson’s Bay, the body of water between Sausalito and nearby Belvedere, has not been well managed for many years. People who anchor there don’t have the legal authority to do so, and many abandon non-seaworthy boats there. This has become a big burden for Sausalito. A sentiment familiar to many in-house counsel, “It was a lot of learning because I never dealt with these issues before.” Hoffman learned that part of her responsibility as a leader was to learn about unfamiliar issues, not just focus on those she understood. “Once you take on these responsibilities, you need to do your best to understand them so you can make the best decisions that benefit the residents,” she says. “It is a lot of work! But this work is important. I would not have run if it weren’t important. I want to do the best job I can for Sausalito’s residents.”
Hoffman sees politics as an exciting opportunity to take on a new challenge, and truly make a difference. Yet, she’ll be the first to say that it isn’t to be taken lightly. “It is a heavy responsibility. And you have to take that responsibility seriously,” she warns. Her background as a GC has laid a perfect foundation for this kind of work, and is an inspiration for anyone wondering whether it’s possible. A resounding “Yes!”
This article was originally published by Above the Law.