Saturday, December 2, 2023

Quiet Strength: Jamie Cooper is Making An Impact Without a Big Fuss

Offices are busy places. Phones ring, customers drop in, employees rush to meetings, or stop to chat when making their morning coffee. Like frantic bees buzzing around the hive, workers are often lured into busyness and can sometimes lose the ability to stop, think, and focus.

But Corporate Communications Manager Jamie Cooper’s quiet and contemplative nature protects her from the busyness trap and has resulted in a steady and effective approach to achievement and an awareness that serves the City well.

“I marvel at how Jamie sees the world and keenly observes people and their environment,” said Deputy Director of Communications Pilar Schank. “She listens, watches, and then produces work that beautifully illustrates what she has taken in,” Schank added. “In the short time that she has been here, she has championed a style and polish uniquely Southlake.”

Jamie’s understated nature has an elegance to it. She doesn’t demand recognition from others, and she’s not eager to be in the limelight. She lets her work speak for itself. Beautifully designed graphics, interesting and compelling stories, strong social media strategy, and incredible organizational skills are just a few hallmarks of her great work…and she’s only just begun to make her mark.

“It’s evident how the staff and public value Jamie’s work,” said Schank. “She’s taken our brand standards and evolved them into a highly sophisticated and recognizable look, reflective of this organization’s professionalism. Everyone wants her touch on their work product.”

Jamie comes to work each day ready to produce and lead her team to make a difference by keeping people informed and engaged.

Equal parts artist and pragmatist Jamie Cooper is the kind of employee who quietly produces terrific outcomes every day. Because her work takes place behind the scenes, her remarkable skills and talents aren’t always publicly recognized, Jamie has been selected as one of the City’s very important Unsung Heroes.

Steady As She Goes: Jenn Blackstock Is Prepared, Ready for Anything

Safety is a high priority for the Southlake team. The extraordinary men and women in our Police and Fire Departments are the poster children for keeping people safe, even if it requires putting themselves in harm’s way. The Public Works teams regularly test water quality. Building inspectors ensure homes are constructed according to code. In addition, the City even has a safety committee that works hard to promote workplace safety. There are many examples of city staff working routinely to protect the community’s well-being. But one of the most notable safety champions on the team is someone you may not always think of – Jenn Blackstock, the Community Services Aquatics Supervisor.

“Champions Club is all about offering fun experiences for our members,” said Chris Tribble, Director of Community Services. “But we also strongly emphasize safety. And when it comes to safety, no one is more focused and effective than Jenn Blackstock.”

A quick review of Jenn’s responsibilities shows the extent of her work:

  • Responsible for all safety training for Marq staff, including CPR/First Aid/AED certification classes, teaching lifeguard certification classes, and is responsible for First Aid and Stop the Bleed kits supplies,
  • Conducts in-service training for aquatics staff,
  • Coordinates annual review of The Marq’s Emergency Action Plan with City’s Emergency Manager,
  • Responsible for Champions Club water quality management and for providing input for City water quality checks,
  • Oversees Learn to Swim program, which provides instruction to over 1,000 participants,
  • In the process of developing and implementing the future Southlake Water Safety Program,
  • And assists with establishing and implementing the Community Services’ Incident Report Form and workflow.

“Jenn is steady as she goes, calm and level-headed; someone you can always count on in a crisis,” said Deputy Director of Community Services David Miller. “She is smart, organized, and always well-prepared. Her leadership strengthens the overall safety at Champions Club, especially in the pool and the pool area.”

For all she does to ensure that the staff and patrons of Champions Club are safe and secure, Jenn is being recognized as one of the City’s unsung heroes. Many thanks to Jenn and her team for their commitment to safety.


Terrible Teens? Dana Kirkland Sees It Differently

When talent meets passion, magical things can happen in the workplace…even when there are unique and sometimes great challenges. Managing programs involving teenagers trying to find their place in the world might be intimidating for most, but for Southlake’s Teen Court Coordinator Dana Kirkland, it’s what she was “meant to do.”

Dana’s love and respect for young people, coupled with meaningful work experience and a quest to get it right, is extraordinary. And the Teen Court program works beautifully as a result.

Dana was a teacher in New Mexico for 26 years before retiring. She taught 4th and 5th grade in general subjects and 6th and 7th grade in Math. In 2016, Dana relocated to the DFW area. She happened to see the job posting for Teen Court Coordinator and immediately pursued and got the job.

She has brought her classroom management, public speaking, and conflict mediation skills to her daily work. Dana is creative and determined and gets the job done, even when circumstances have required her to regroup.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dana went above and beyond to find ways for teens to participate and fulfill their obligations while still learning from their experience. Where a lot of teen courts failed during that time and are no longer functioning, she was able to manage the program and make it successful,” said Kristin McGrail, Municipal Court Manager.

Writing essays was one option for teens to complete service hours. The topics were varied and always thought-provoking, all with the intention of getting the teens to reflect on their choices. Dana has read hundreds of papers in the past two years and has provided valuable feedback to the teens regarding their papers.

Dana does everything she can to make the teen court experience meaningful and enjoyable for everyone involved. Whether cultivating new community service work sites, coordinating training for teen attorneys, or organizing a professional conference, Dana uses her considerable skills to support adolescents as they prepare for adulthood.

For bringing a lifelong passion for education to the job and quietly working each day to make a difference with local teens, Dana Kirkland has been identified as one of the City of Southlake’s Unsung Heroes.

Like the Little Engine That Could Veronica Lomas Keeps Moving Down the Track

Governments are well-known for generating piles of paperwork and maintaining thousands of records and public documents. This results in a mountain of information that someone must organize and properly manage. Fortunately for Southlake, Deputy City Secretary Veronica Lomas has stepped up to the challenge and keeps the document management program moving forward, no matter how difficult the terrain.

Veronica is responsible for managing a system to capture, track, store, and dispose of records. Each record has a life cycle, from creation to active document, to disposition. Working to ensure that Southlake is compliant with state law by meeting retention requirements, Veronica and department liaisons have the challenge of ensuring that paper and electronic documents are maintained efficiently and correctly secured.

“Since coming to Southlake, Veronica has worked with city departments on important projects to better manage documents,” said City Secretary Amy Shelley. “Her leadership to maximizing the use of Laserfiche has resulted in many of the city’s business functions becoming paperless, and great efficiency has been achieved. She is working hard to reduce manual tasks and improve our interaction with citizens.”

An example of a successful project includes digitization of a complex human resource process, open enrollment. Working with HR Business Partner Dylan Welch, efficiencies were gained as follows:

  • Use of paper was reduced from approximately 13,500 pieces of paper to 0.
  • Form distribution was reduced from approximately 12 hours to less than 30 minutes.
  • Employee election data entry process reduced from 40 hours to about two.
  • Data entry into enterprise software reduced from eight hours to about two.
  • Eliminated duplicate data entry, handwriting interpretation, improving accuracy.

Open enrollment is only one successful project. Other work has included digitizing the public safety personal history statements process, improving the City’s board and commission appointment process, vendor performance evaluations, and recreation incident reports.

Veronica and departmental partners have won awards and been recognized for their work by the DocuNav/Laserfiche User Group. This is because the Southlake team is viewed as role models for innovation and the documentable efficiency gains.

Veronica is fond of saying, “It takes a village” to achieve success, a humble expression of her commitment to work with city departments. And always optimistic, she sees plenty of

opportunity for the future – additional automated business processes, increased digitization, more efficient records management, reduced need for records storage, and better transparency.

When it comes to managing documents, Veronica’s know-how, commitment, and ability to work with others ensures that city business processes can be transformed into a successful digital experience.

Like the Little Engine that Could, Veronica just keeps chugging along, making progress day-by-day, driving innovation and efficiency all along the way. For her exceptional work, she is recognized as one of the City’s Unsung Heroes.

Mission Possible: Cambria Jones is a Southlake Secret Weapon You May Not Know

Strategic. Focused. Achiever.

To the casual observer, Tourism Marketing Manager Cambria Jones can appear quiet and unassuming, but looking a little closer, it is easy to see that she is a woman on a mission, a force of nature, intent on performing at a very high level. She is willing to get into the game and compete. A great time manager, she works to accomplish as much as she can during her day. An enthusiastic person with great people skills, she can leverage partnerships to get even more done.

She is intent on winning the tourism game and uses her significant intellect and talent to get the job done.

Cambria is an outstanding employee, but she doesn’t seek the limelight for herself. Instead, she works to draw attention to Southlake and encourages visitors to spend time (and money) in the City.

Here are a few highlights of how Cambria has worked to market Southlake as a destination to visitors (think shopping and dining, bolstering sales tax collections, supporting local businesses):

As a result of Cambria’s efforts, followers of Visit Southlake social media accounts have increased significantly. In FY 2019, the Visit Southlake Facebook account had a 42% increase in followers, and the Visit Southlake Instagram account had a 34% increase in followers. Cambria is telling Southlake’s story to more people, in improved ways.

She successfully managed the Visit Southlake video and photography refresh project, resulting in updated assets that are timely, diverse, and representative of Southlake as a destination.

Cambria successfully managed a destination video project, highlighting Southlake. The video is featured as the cover photo on the Visit Southlake Facebook page. She has also audited video assets and prioritized needs for FY 2020.

Throughout 2019, Cambria made significant progress in building rapport with destination partners, including the Hilton Hotel and RPAI (the real estate investment trust that owns most of Town Square). Working together, Cambria and these partners highlight local businesses to strengthen the local economy.

To Alison Ortowski, who oversees economic development and tourism programs for the City, working with Cambria is “a dream.”

“Cambria is one of those employees who possesses the ‘X’ factor that makes her highly productive, but also pleasant and inspirational,” she said. “We have supreme confidence in Cambria’s ability to support local businesses and deliver strong results.”

For her strong commitment to marketing Southlake as a destination of choice and for behind-the-scenes, effective work, Tourism Marketing Manager Cambria Jones is one of Southlake’s best secret weapons and an unsung hero.

Plans to Pavement: How Unsung Hero Mark Cisneros is Getting N. White Chapel Boulevard Built

Greek mythology presents the story of Sisyphus, a ruler condemned to pushing a heavy stone up a hill, only to have it roll back down when it neared the top. Managing construction projects is not completely analogous to the eternal, futile work of Sisyphus (they do eventually conclude and leave us with something of value), but Mark Cisneros might agree that many days his management of the N. White Chapel reconstruction project feels like one hard step forward, two steps back. Yet Mark remains focused, and the project is proceeding successfully thanks to the tenacity and professionalism he brings to the assignment. For his great work, he is being recognized as one of the City’s important unsung heroes.

“Mark’s duties for this project encompass elements of technical aptitude, knowledge of the construction requirements, accounting and customer service,” said Director of Public Works Rob Cohen. “Mark takes true ownership of this project and keeps the project moving when tasks seemed to be lagging, often working with the project superintendent to keep the crews focused and advancing to the next phase. Mark understands the significance of the project to the traveling public and has worked hard and effectively to keep it on track.”

The project has required Mark to…

  • Carefully review contractor payment applications, verify the work was satisfactorily completed and certify the documents needed for payment approval;
  • make decisions in the field that are minor adjustments to the final product and keep the Public Works team informed of these adjustments;
  • keep meticulous notes based on daily observations of project activity, used to document conditions needed to negotiate with contractors on requests for additional time or scope of work changes or make corrections;
  • serve as the contact for all parties involved with the project. This includes coordination among residents, contractors, utilities, and staff. He addresses resident issues regarding site appearance, cleanup, traffic control, and other items;
  • conduct third party material testing. Mark reviews reports to confirm the contracted work meets engineering specifications. He also coordinates with utility providers to resolve conflicts, preventing project delays. He coordinates work and inspections.

“Mark is extremely passionate and takes pride in his projects. He realized the importance of this project to the City, both the organization and the public, very early on and simply refused to lose. He is a great motivator and is the reason that this project remains on schedule,” said Director Cohen. “This has resulted in great outcomes, like being able to open the outside lanes of the roundabout and Highland for the start of the school year.”

Mark’s work will continue as the project manager for Phase 2 of the project.

A Strong Work Ethic With A Dash of Southern Charm, Richard Schell Is An Unsung City Hero

Anyone raised in the south understands that there are certain unwritten rules, and failure to adhere to these basic societal principles just isn’t acceptable. For example, one must always be hospitable and polite, kind and helpful. Many Southerners learn to perfect these traits, believing life will be better for having done so.  And when a person is successful in honing the skills, he or she is regarded as possessing southern charm.  Principal Planner Richard Schell is a fine example of a hard-working, charming gentleman, who carries out his duties with unpretentious courtesy, plenty of respect for others, and a gracious temperament.

Richard is responsible for reviewing development plans and plats for property owners and authoring staff reports for board meetings. When called upon to present the items at a Zoning Board of Adjustment or Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, he steps into the spotlight and becomes a well-polished spokesman, presenting complex information, recalling important (and sometimes minute) details, and professionally fielding questions. During FY 2017, the planning team processed 153 development applications, including site plans, specific use permits, comprehensive plan amendments, and plats.  Richard presents the majority of these cases at the P&Z Commission and 2035 Corridor Committee meetings and presents all the cases at the Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings. All of this important work is carried out with quiet confidence and proficiency.

Major projects that Richard has worked on recently include TD Ameritrade, Apple Store, CISD school bond facility projects and major residential projects such as Crescent Heights (57 lots), Town Square Parkview Residences (38 condos), Metairie (56 lots) and Stony Brook (48 lots).

Due to his efforts, review procedures work smoothly. His considerable ability to usher projects through the process serves the City, board members, and our customers very well.  That he is able to achieve it all with a calm and capable demeanor underscores the depth of his talent.

“Richard has an incredible work ethic,” said Ken Baker, Senior Director of Planning and Development Services.  “He works hard and smart, and when it comes time to deliver the work product, he always hits his mark. He arrives before 7:00 a.m. on most days, and is one of the most productive and amiable employees I’ve ever supervised.”

Richard’s manner is always humble, in spite of his considerable skill. His soft, southern drawl makes a strong impression and contributes to his reputation as a well-mannered professional and Southern gentleman.

Thank you for all you do, Richard, and for the way you do it.

Unsung Hero: For Senora Spencer, Good Is Not Necessarily Good Enough

Performance excellence is so important, but may be especially so when an employee is charged with securing and managing evidence in police cases, including high profile items such as DNA, firearms, money, and/or drugs.

The proper storage and safekeeping of physical evidence is crucial in criminal prosecutions, and the individual assigned to manage the property and evidence room has to be committed to the highest level of integrity and excellence.

Senora Spencer has made that commitment in Southlake, and the quality of her work has already been recognized.

“I selected Senora as this year’s ‘Civilian of the Year’ because she has done an extraordinary job of fulfilling her duties,” said Police Chief James Brandon. “Last year she reorganized the property room, which contains over 13,000 pieces of evidence; she’s digitized property room records, and she has taken on the responsibility of assisting with DWI cases. She does all of these things thoroughly and with a very positive attitude.”

In 2017, the property room was inspected on five occasions, two of which included an audit of items in the property room. Senora’s effectiveness was on full display during each inspection, ensuring the successful completion of each.

When you talk with Senora about her job, the passion for her work is obvious. She understands its importance and willingly embraces the responsibility for it.

She proudly shows the rows of carefully organized and labeled boxes, and the before/after photos. She shares the things she has done to streamline processes, all with an eye to helping the Criminal Investigations Division successfully prosecute cases.

In spite of being here for such a short period of time (she joined Southlake’s team in December 2016), Senora has already made a big impact.

For having high standards, achieving important outcomes, and pursuing excellence every day, Senora Spencer has been selected as this quarter’s City of Southlake unsung hero.

Unsung Hero: Vickie DeWees Is Steady & Determined, With a Big Heart

Most days you will find Vickie DeWees processing paperwork in her cubicle in Town Hall, ensuring that payments are made accurately and timely for the goods and services purchased by the City.

With over 7,000 payments processed during a fiscal year, this is no small job, but Vickie manages it all with a sense of urgency and efficiency, a strong commitment to customer service and, most days, a dash of humor. Her ready smile and hearty laughter are clearly one of the reasons it’s so much fun to work in Finance Administration.

But in late November, early December, Vickie transforms into an organizational leader, directing a City holiday service project with conviction and military precision.

For more than 15 years, Vickie has organized a voluntary food and gift drive through Christmas Providers, a non-profit organization that facilitates an “adopt-a-family” program. Vickie is the liaison to the organization, coordinates staff volunteers to purchase and wrap gifts and collect food items, shops for needed items, and coordinates with the selected family. For the past several years, the City of Southlake staff has adopted at least two of the larger families in need due to the generosity of staff throughout the organization.

Vickie’s work has inspired other departments to adopt additional families through Christmas Providers as well. The Community Services, Planning & Development Services, and Public Works Departments are now adopting families through the program, largely due to the inspiration that Vickie has provided.

And, if that were not enough, Vickie personally adopts a family! Christmas Providers is fortunate to work with such a giving and kind volunteer. (Note: Vickie also generously gives to charitable programs sponsored by her church, and on holidays might be found handing out needed items to the homeless. Her kindness really knows no bounds.)

For her steady and efficient work as the City’s Accounts Payable Clerk, the leadership she provides for our voluntary service project, and her wonderful attitude, Vickie has been selected as one of the City’s important unsung heroes.