A Decade of Public Service in Five Days

Last week I closed out a nearly decade-long career in public service. Since 2009, I have been working in some fashion for the City of Miami Beach. My first job there was a nine-month internship with the Public Works Department as part of my Master’s program and my last job was holding the dual role of Environmental Manager and Assistant Director in the Environment & Sustainability Department.

I absolutely loved my time with the city and have had a difficult time saying goodbye. I started the process in early March with this short-and-sweet announcement of my departure. Then, due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, my end date was pushed back a month.

The emotional release the post provided had long faded by the time last week rolled around so I decided to say a final goodbye with a series of daily entries on Facebook. The result? A five-day journal summarizing my decade in public service (and Betsy’s dramatically different hairstyles through the years). Take a look!

Day 1 – Monday, April 13
Internship at City of Miami Beach

Today I officially begin my last week working at the City of Miami Beach and I am a glass case of emotion. As a way to help me cope, I will be sharing a daily photo and memory of my last nearly ten years with the city, starting with how it all began.

In 2009, I was finishing my Master’s in Marine Affairs & Policy at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. One to the prerequisites for graduation is to complete an internship. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after graduation, other than follow in the footsteps of Dr. Kenny Broad and Dr. Daniel Suman. My advisor Maria was the one who sent me the internship posting for the City of Miami Beach’s Environmental Division (at the time, a three-person division under Public Works).

I applied and was awarded the internship by absolute happenstance. I spent nine months doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, getting exposure to the inner workings of city government. During that time, I learned how much I love this community for its walkability, its access to nature, and its unique personality. I love it so much that in 2010 I became a Miami Beach resident—I moved into a $700/mo studio on Washington Avenue and 7th Street—and I vowed that if I was ever going to work in public service, it would be for the City of Miami Beach.

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Day 2 – Tuesday, April 14
Earth Day Miami Beach 2013

After I completed my internship with the city in 2010, I had a dwindling childhood savings account and was in desperate need for a job to pay for my new Miami Beach studio. I interviewed for a ton of environmental scientist jobs throughout the county. The most memorable interviews were with DERM and the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves because I was so nervous I visibly sweat through the whole thing.

I finally landed a job in January 2011 at a small, privately-held architecture and engineering firm in Coral Gables. My dad was ecstatic. (He’s a private sector devotee—can you blame him after a long and lustrous career with AT&T?—and thinks Coral Gables is the best city in Miami-Dade.) But less than two years later, I was faced with a touch decision.

In late 2011, the Environmental Manager with whom I had interned left the city, leaving behind a rare vacancy within the Environmental Division. As soon as Betsy was promoted, she began hiring for an Environmental Specialist. I wasn’t ready to leave my almost brand new role, but this was my once-in-a-lifetime chance to fulfill my vow of public service in my new community.

Luckily, I entered the candidate pool with prior experience and a great working relationship with the hiring manager. You already know what happens next.

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Day 3 – Wednesday, April 15
Environmental Division

I started with the city as the Environmental Specialist on October 1, 2012. For nearly three years, Betsy and I were a dynamic duo. We handled all environmental and sustainability programs. We were the liaisons for the Waterfront Protection Committee—it’s how I first met Robert Raven Kraft and Jeff Feldman—and the Sustainability Committee (hi, Luiz Rodrigues!). We managed the Beachwalk and seawall construction projects. We represented the city on the Climate Compact. And, we held and supported hundreds of educational events throughout the community.

Long days in the office were followed by evenings and weekends of volunteer dune restoration events with our friends at the Surfrider Foundation Miami Chapter, organizing presentation and workshops on a range of sustainability topics like “how to build your own rain barrel,” and tabling at city events where we shared information on our programs and gave away our famous “I Recycle Because” bags. After a while, we both started to burn out.

Luckily, in 2014, the Environmental Division began growing organically. Yani was the first to arrive. She was hired to fill our Office Associate position, but quickly took on an expanded role in outreach thanks to her passion and aptitude for sustainability education. She is currently our Senior Sustainability Coordinator and has been organizing virtual Sustainachella workshops on the city’s Facebook Live while we’re stuck at home. (There’s one tomorrow at noon with Coral Morphologic that you won’t want to miss!)

Following a series of events in 2015, Betsy was promoted to Assistant Director and I was promoted to Environmental Manager. Flavia joined our team that March and began handling all our sustainability programs like a boss. Between the four of us, we were not only able to better balance the workload, but also start creating new programs for the first time.

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Day 4 – Thursday, April 16
E&S Team 2018

The Environment & Sustainability Department was created in June 2016 and Betsy was appointed our director by unanimous vote of the City Commission. In one fell swoop (thanks to the support of our elected officials and our community eco-warriors), we tripled into a team of three distinct divisions: Environmental Management under me, Sustainability under Flavia, and Urban Forestry (now under Omar Leon).

Then, while we were getting our footing, Betsy left for a temporary assignment as Mayor Levine’s Chief of Staff. In February 2017, I found myself the acting director (and Environmental Manager) of our brand new department.

There’s a lot I want to say about this period because it was one of the most stressful and most rewarding times in my career with the city. However, it encompasses too much and is too precious a memory to condense in a Facebook update. I will suffice it to say my life changed completely both personally and professionally in 2017.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my colleagues at the city who had my back throughout 2017 and have had my back since. I work incredibly hard to be worthy of the trust placed in me to lead our E&S team (then as acting director, now as assistant director), but I would not be where I am were it not for your guidance, your support, your mentorship, and most of all, your friendship.

In my first few years, I learned we have high-caliber professionals working for the City of Miami Beach. Over the last few years, I have also learned we have high-caliber humans working for the City of Miami Beach. I am really, really going to miss you all.

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Day 5 – Friday, April 17
On-Camera-Interview-Margarita-Kruyff

Well, as much as I tried to avoid it, my last day is actually here. Alas, it is time for one final update.

When I gave my resignation to come to the city in 2012, a former colleague told me I was making a mistake going into city government and “getting lost in small town bureaucracy.” I’m glad I can look back at the last eight years and know it was anything but.

Yes, my work is based here and it is focused on garnering the greatest local impact, but we’re a small city with a huge international presence. The decisions that we make have far-reaching implications. We are being watched by millions of people across the world, including my counterparts in other cities who often reach out for advice. (In fact, before Susy came to work with us, her team in For Lauderdale was using our dune management plan as a reference for crafting their own.)

During my time here, I learned from and shared our work with engineers, city planners, scientists, journalists, and elected officials who visited us from cities around the world. I led tours of delegations from Boston, Hawaii, Germany, and Japan, among countless others. I presented before the European Union in the United States. Heck, I even gave an interview with The Weather Channel at some point.

Other people probably say this about their communities, but Miami Beach is a really unique place for better or for worse. People on the outside see it. It’s why they send delegations to learn from us and why we make for great news. I have seen it from the inside. It’s why I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this city over the last decade and why I am having a hard time getting off this ride.

There were a lot of things I loved about my job at the city, but I am personally grateful for the experiences and friendships that the role afforded me over the last few years. (In fact, I met many of you who are reading this because of this job.) As I transition into my new chapter, I am excited to take these experiences and your friendships with me.

Thank you for giving me the honor to serve you.

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