It isn't often people come across someone really extraordinary, let alone someone in role most see as behind the scenes in government and public service, but who is truly amazing (bestowed the title of “everyone’s ethical compass”), not to mention an inspiration to others every single day for more than 30 years. In fact, most people don’t even equate “feel-good” and government in the same sentence, let alone “inspiring” – so not only did I learn more about the real woman behind “Carol McCarthy” and the million or so projects and good deeds she accomplished over her career, I stumbled upon a role model of the new modern American woman – and a story I could only hope others would find equally inspiring. If for anything, perhaps folks could see “the daily grind” of life in a whole new life – as well as differences made by those behind the scenes as McCarthy so tenderly expressed every given opportunity during the interview. And maybe, just maybe, some would find a newfound hope, gratefulness and motivation – as that’s what McCarthy did for me.
With more than three decades as a government employee with the City of Santa Clara – from Community Relations Officer to Deputy Assistant Manager to Assistant Manager – Carol McCarthy isn’t just retiring, she’s transitioning out of an adopted family she’s come to know and respect greatly. As much as she looks forward to the new ventures that await her – spend time with her husband and “watch her grandchildren grow” – it is difficult to leave behind such an “enjoyable and fulfilling job” although McCarthy did say she looks forward to the view from the other side.
As a resident is what McCarthy refers to, the community member she’s been catering to for more than 30 years. And, spoken like a true hero, she wouldn't take credit for any of her amazing million or so accomplishments, let alone leave her post without easing the transition for others, whether going or coming. From former City Manager Jennifer Sparacino's retirement in June 2012 to the incoming City Manager, Julio Fuentes who began February 4, 2013, to the interim Acting City Manager Alan Kurotori (replacing McCarthy) to the swearing in of the new city council; McCarthy said she was just doing what “felt natural.” According to current Community Relations Manager Dan Beerman, McCarthy very well just may be one of the few rare gems who knows the city, inside and out; all who were privileged enough to work with her stating exactly the same, also stating that she was one of those rarities that could work with anyone, regardless of stature or personality.
According to Sparacino, a 36-year city employee (25 as former city manager), she remembers McCarthy very fondly, not only as a coworker she worked very closely with, but as a person and friend. “She was everyone’s ethical compass,” said Sparacino, Beerman agreed, adding that it was those close relationships with others, including people with such stature as Sparacino, that made McCarthy so invaluable and that also allowed her to grow – her ethics like theirs – among the highest.
So what was McCarthy’s secret? According to McCarthy, Mark Twain’s quote: “Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest,” stating that it often reminded her of her job. Which quite possibly may be what makes her the modern American woman role model – and to so many, a hero.
McCarthy said she is of the belief that she believes there are many behind-the-scenes employees that work so hard but go unnoticed or that remain unsung heroes – from the folks in the corporation yard, Parks & Recreation, library, fire, Dispatch 911, city offices or council – “There are so many departments that are in a closet – but that are no less visual. They are good people that feel really good at the end of the day because they've made a difference,” said McCarthy.
To McCarthy “to serve comes with a great deal of responsibility” and she felt one of the lucky few to work with such good people; so to her, it made it all worth it. And, spoken like the modern American woman I came to know and respect, McCarthy added, “It is important to practice our values every day; it builds good habits.”
So when I asking McCarthy how she dealt with anyone that might have been construed as “difficult” – her response may very well have been one of the best responses of my entire career: “I wouldn't describe them as difficult; some of the strengths of diversity of opinion – that wouldn't be what it is today if they didn't have lively debate or if they didn't have their opinion,” said McCarthy, “I value that about government,” said McCarthy, adding that all input is valuable, whether residential or business – and then cited the City’s Core Values off the top of her head: “Ethical, professional, service oriented, fiscally responsible, organized, communicative, collaborative and progressive.”
Sparacino said that McCarthy took on various projects and programs, many times on her own or in addition to her assigned duties; from the Ethics & Values (implemented in 2000) to one of its components, the Code of Ethics Program (including the Q&A on the website that McCarthy organized); or the Leadership Program – that according to Sparacino, McCarthy was always a key component – not only city programs but also the city’s success. “She was active in the development and maintenance, some very difficult to sort through, said Sparacino, “Her work ethics were incredible. She was definitely a pro – no matter the program or task,” said Sparacino. She was the ideal public servant.”
Sparacino said McCarthy was very highly respected (which is what McCarthy said about Sparacino); “She was nothing short of amazing; she will no doubt be missed.” said Sparacino. Others who worked with McCarthy were amazed by many things but mostly her vast knowledge, extreme sense of loyalty, sincerity and dedication, such as Beerman, who stated that he not only felt privileged but that he learned a lot working with McCarthy.
Remnants of McCarthy’s dedication are all over the city, including City Hall where photos hang along the hall walls with more than 150 photos spanning over 100 years of history, complete with captions – some from the Chamber of Commerce scrapbook to the 140th anniversary of the opening of the building in 1963 –a project that McCarthy said was completed in 1992, and one that she said people still stop and reminisce about every day. “It’s those little projects, or those tiny little things that were unassigned and that we did for fun that end up making such a huge difference,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy’s secret? “It is important to practice our values every day; it builds good habits.” McCarthy said that all of the people holding city positions stand by these rules and follow them; including the council.
And, true to form – when a city has good people at its core, it can’t help but flourish – such as when Santa Clara was named an "All-America City," McCarthy said that the city was honored to be named in the first year, with other cities having to reapply – some several times. “It was a proud moment for us and truly an honor,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy is of the belief that no job is ever too small and that’s it’s likely the public just doesn't, see often enough that others are just like her (again the hero) or that many believe in the community component. “To serve comes with a great deal of responsibility; you can’t please everyone,” adding that most are wonderful, dedicated people who abide by policy and simply do the best they can. “Thousands like me love what they do and feel good about it,” said McCarthy.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this inspiring interview with a modern American woman.
Like this and other articles by P.K.? Subscribe and be notified of new posts.