For Seal Beach’s new city manager, Jill Ingram, life has taken some unexpected turns.
It was less than six months ago that she was an assistant to the city manager, steadily earning her master’s degree in public administration. But when City Manager David Carmany took another job and his temporary replacement quit abruptly, city leaders asked Ingram to fill the void as acting city manager.
The timing was less than ideal. Ingram, 45, was mourning the passing of her father, a longtime Seal Beach resident. She was also putting her son through school at University of Southern California while in the final stretch of her own studies in the California State University Long Beach master’s program.
But turning down the offer just wasn’t an option for Ingram.
“We had a tremendous amount of transition going on all at once, and when that happens, there is so much anxiety as an organization,” she said.
Not only had the city manager and interim city manager left the city, but the police chief announced his pending retirement, and the city’s longest sitting councilman stepped down as well.
“When it happens at that level, you feel like your foundation is crumbling,” Ingram said. “My goal as acting city manager was to provide some continuity and stability.”
In her short time as acting city manager, Ingram became a community favorite, and the City Council didn’t want to let her go. After reviewing more than 100 applications, the council voted unanimously to hire Ingram, even though she didn’t ask for the job.
It was her handling of the ongoing city budget process that demonstrated to Seal Beach City Councilwoman Ellery Deaton that Ingram was up to the task. Ingram held a series of budget workshops that included input from city leaders and the community.
The new approach reflects Ingram’s leadership philosophy.
“It’s about transparency and collaboration,” Ingram said. “I have an open and inclusive managerial style, and I think people will see that more and more. My goal is to become a familiar face and for people to feel comfortable coming to my office with their concerns.”
That approach resonated with Deaton.
“Jill has proven her mettle in the way she handled the entire budget process,” Deaton said.
However, the budget process also helped expose the challenges that await Ingram in the years ahead. City leaders will have to tackle the $100,000 annual deficit incurred by the city jail and negotiate employee benefits and pension packages. They’ll also have to tackle the proposed housing development on the former Department of Water and Power property. When the city settled a lawsuit with the project’s developers this year, allowing them to bring forward a 48-home project on coastal land that many wanted to be kept as open space, community members passionately accused the council of betrayal.
The project is still three to five years out, and it’s far from a done deal, said Ingram.
“There is going to be several layers of discussion and input, and I would encourage people to attend and take part in the process,” she said.
However, Ingram’s most immediate goal will be to hire a new Seal Beach police chief to replace the soon-to-retire Chief Jeff Kirkpatrick.
In the meantime, Ingram has barely had time to process the promotion and outpouring of support that she has received from the community.
“When they asked me if I would be interested in the position, I know I had the deer-in-the-headlights look. I was speechless,” Ingram said. “The community support has been overwhelming. I can’t even find the words to describe it.”
In many ways, her path to leadership was atypical. She began her career in education as an assistant to school district superintendent, moved on to the role of city clerk in Cypress and then Clerk of the Authority for the Orange County Fire Authority. Serving in so many different capacities and agencies has given her a broad perspective of government and leadership styles, she said. It also taught her how to collaborate with large boards comprised of a wide range of strong personalities, a skill that could come in handy as she manages the sometimes-competing interests of Seal Beach’s five districts.
Ingram, a Long Beach resident, is the first woman to serve as City Manager of the 95-year-old city.
“I always felt like there was a reason I came to Seal Beach,” said Ingram. “For me, the only disappointment is that my dad is not here to see that I am the city manager because he would be really proud, but my dad’s connection to Seal Beach gives me a personal motivation to be the best I can be and, at the end of the day, to have a positive impact in the community.”
Name: Jill Ingram
In the News: Starting July 1, Ingram will take the helm as Seal Beach’s new city manager.
Favorite book: “The Night Before Christmas”
Favorite movie: “Hoosiers”
Hobbies: Spending time with my family, attending college football games, reading, gardening, interior decorating, camping, and riding on the back of a Harley!
Greatest personal challenge in life: Of all the things I’ve done in my life, of all the things I’ve loved most, and am the most proud of is being a Mom, and balancing life as a single mom with a demanding career and continuing my education.
Words to Live By: “It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”
Something few would know about you: A couple years ago, through DNA testing, I discovered that my fraternal twin sister was actually my identical twin.