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If a fellowship in Richmond had not fallen through for Jodi Miller 20 years ago, she may not be where she is today.
It was in her “scramble” to find another internship while earning her master’s degree at Virginia Tech that she learned of an opportunity in the City of Williamsburg, one she would later call a “life-changing experience.”
“By the end of my internship here in Williamsburg, I was hooked,” Miller said. “It kind of felt like I had found my calling.”
On Friday, Miller will conclude a 15-year career in Williamsburg city management before heading to Durham, N.C. to become the locality’s deputy county manager.
“I think my experience here really put me in a place, professionally and personally, to take on the new challenge in Durham, most definitely,” Miller said. “It’s been an honor to serve this community.”
Miller, now the deputy city manager, interned with the City of Williamsburg in the summer of 1997 and worked on the city’s performance management system, a project she would continue to work on when she was hired full-time a few years later.
She said her time as an intern helped her hone in on a career in public management and learn what it means to provide local services to a community.
“You actually see the outcomes of the work that you do. You see it directly in the community and how it impacts people’s lives, and for me that’s very rewarding,” Miller said.
After graduation, Miller worked as a research specialist in Newport News and a parks and recreation analyst for the City of Virginia Beach before returning to Williamsburg to become the assistant to the city manager in 2000.
Jack Tuttle, former city manager, said Miller was “bright, energetic” and willing to learn and take risks when she came on as an intern. As an assistant to the city manager, Tuttle said he was looking for someone at the beginning of his or her career who had potential to grow.
“I saw somebody here who had the potential for doing well in local government and had the motivation to do it,” Tuttle said.
In 2002, Miller was promoted to assistant city manager and became deputy city manager in 2014.
Current and former colleagues rattled off a list of responsibilities and roles Miller took on as a city manager, ranging from supervising the human resources and communications departments to heading the city’s healthy eating and active living initiatives.
Former Mayor Jeanne Zeidler said city positions like the economic development director and the communications specialist did not exist until after Miller performed the duties herself and “established value” for the roles.
“She did [communications and economic development] so well she proved the need for the position,” Zeidler said.
Miller was part of the work group that created the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority and served as the WATA Board’s first chairperson. Doug Powell, general manager of the James City Service Authority, is also a founding WATA board member and said she deserves credit for her leadership during WATA’s infancy.
“She was someone who was able to see the bigger picture and try to come up with solutions that worked for everybody,” Powell said.
Miller lists her work with WATA and performance management, as well as strategic planning and establishing the Williamsburg Farmers Market, as some of her proudest achievements.
Tuttle and Zeidler commended Miller for what she called “one of the most challenging” tasks in her career – transitioning the Williamsburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority from an independent entity into a city department.
Miller was appointed interim director of WRHA shortly after longtime executive director Andy Hungerman died suddenly in October 2012. She was tasked with stabilizing the authority’s team and integrate its services and programs into the city’s government.
“She found herself on the front line, running the housing authority and managing that transition,” Tuttle said. “Her role in that was critical.”
She was successful in doing so, but said it would not have been possible without help from city staff.
“We have a great staff here in the city. We know each other really well,” Miller said. “I think because of these relationships, the staff was willing to jump in and say, ‘Let’s figure out how to make this integrated approach happen.’”
In Durham, Miller said she hopes to build relationships with county staff to the same avail as she has in Williamsburg.
“All the great people, everyone from the councils, two mayors, city staff, citizens, has been so open and inviting and supportive,” Miller said. “I think that will be the hardest part about leaving.”
City Fire Chief Pat Dent, who worked closely with Miller in emergency communications, said her departure is like “a family member leaving.”
“It really is a close-knit group to work with and it’s like someone from your family moving away,” Dent said. “It’s an awesome opportunity for her and I’m sure she’ll do well, but it’s losing somebody that’s been an important piece of the puzzle.”
Tuttle said Durham is gaining a deputy county manager “at the prime of her career.” Zeidler said the position in Durham is a “wonderful career move” for Miller.
“I think all of her great characteristics of being a problem solver, a strong leader, having a presence that instills confidence, just makes her the perfect pick,” Zeidler said.
Miller’s last day with the City of Williamsburg is Jan. 29.