Five Questions for Jessica Clarke, Deputy City Manager
Jessica Clarke began serving the City of Takoma Park as Deputy City Manager in April 2020.
“I started weeks after the Coronavirus pandemic began, and just before the Fiscal 2021 budget reconciliation process,” Clarke noted. “The caliber of the team I have joined has been on full display in crafting our pandemic response. Our staff is resilient and has barely missed a beat in the transition to working remotely.”
Since beginning her tenure with the City, she has enjoyed working with “a diverse, talented team possessing a wealth of experience in their respective fields who are passionate about all things Takoma Park.” For her, the “small and mighty” mural in front of the Recreation Center drawn by Chalk Riot exemplifies the City’s leadership team.
“City Manager Ludlow, our Department heads, and I have daily discussions with Mayor Stewart, City Council, State and County leadership, and other municipalities on best strategies to address the public health crisis and protect Takoma Park residents during these challenging times,” she observed. “The health protocols we put in place for the safety of Takoma Park employees, our emergency support initiatives for vulnerable businesses and families, and our approach to City operations will be an important blueprint for the City in future crises.”
Prior to joining the Takoma Park team, Clarke worked for the City of Baltimore, Maryland, (her hometown), in various roles, including as a budget and management analyst and director of community engagement for the Baltimore Finance Department’s Bureau of the Budget and Management Research. She then moved to the Department of Housing and Community Development where she served as division manager of demolition, deconstruction, and stabilization operations.
Clarke received a BA in Political Science from Williams College and a Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University. Between earning these degrees, she was a Peace Corps Agroforestry volunteer in northern Cameroon for two years. She first became interested in public policy after spending two summers teaching reading to kids in East Baltimore through an organization called Superkids Camp.
“The reading skills of most of the campers were far below their grade level,” Clarke recalled. “I realized that they would struggle to catch up with their peers for years to come, and that local government could alleviate the many factors working against them and help close the opportunity gap. That experience stayed with me and is part of what inspired me to earn a Master’s in Public Policy at the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy with a focus on urban policymaking.”
Clarke’s work with local governments as a Peace Corps volunteer in Northern Cameroon promoting reforestation and as a Mayoral Fellow with the Baltimore Housing Department analyzing the Vacants to Value program were also strong influences on her decision to pursue graduate studies in public policy. Now she brings all these experiences to Takoma Park where she has found residents are very engaged with their local government.
“Thanks to Zoom, we’ve had more residents than ever before weigh in for City Council hearings on Wednesdays from the comfort of their couches,” she noted. “Through public comments, I’m learning how much Takoma Park residents value responsive government, community engagement, transparency and fiscal responsibility.”
“Many of our youngest residents have joined Zoom calls with their parents to advocate for supporting the arts, renovating the library, reprioritizing the budget, or expanding our tree canopy,” Clarke continued. “The fact that residents of all ages follow local government affairs so closely is wonderful to see and breathes new energy into our daily work.”
Four years ago, we introduced a series of “quick interviews” in this newsletter to help residents learn a little more about City staff and their neighbors. Here is Clarke’s take on our five questions.
1. Favorite Place/Activity in Takoma Park: I am new to the area, so I am still exploring. On my lunch breaks, I love stopping to the smell the roses (literally) in Takoma-Piney Branch Park. I always see families flying kites or picnicking, and lots of kids using the skate park, volleyball court, and basketball court.
2. Best Thing about Working in Takoma Park: Serving a community of global citizens
3. What’s on Your Desk Right Now: Pupusas, the Fiscal 2021 Budget Book, and Indigro Plant Design succulents to support the “Takoma Park Together” Fundraising Campaign for small businesses
4. What You Do in Your “Spare Time”: Salsa dancing, running, biking, and taste testing all the best bakeries in the DC metro area
5. Best Advice You Ever Got (and from who): The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) has a mentorship program, and I spoke with several veteran city managers to get their advice. They recommended getting out of the office to experience City operations firsthand, and that’s what I plan to do!
This article appeared in the July 2020 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.