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Recognizing Opal Mauldin-Jones

by Sean Meyer, Municipal World
in Governance, Leadership

As part of its ongoing 2020 awards celebrating Women of Influence in Local Government, Municipal World is next recognizing Opal Mauldin-Jones, City Manager in Lancaster, Texas.

“We are excited for the opportunity with these awards to celebrate remarkable, deserving women and their leadership in the field of local government,” said Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner. “The awards recognize women who have worked collaboratively and lifted up others along the way in the pursuit of effecting positive change in their organizations and in their communities. In her work, Opal Mauldin-Jones has exemplified those important qualities.”

Mauldin-Jones has been with the Lancaster organization since March 2003, but she was named City Manager in 2011.

In nominating Mauldin-Jones for the Women of Influence in Local Government Award, Lancaster Assistant City Manager Fabrice Kabona praises her for her ability to show “compassion and care” for everyone on her team. He adds that Mauldin-Jones also “believes in succeeding as a team, because a team is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Mentoring, too, is important for Mauldin-Jones. She feels strongly about connecting with anyone who is interested in the local government sphere, regardless of gender, race, culture, or nationality.

“I want to encourage you and any way I can mentor you, share my experiences with you, I totally make myself available for that. I feel so strongly at this level of government, this is where real change and real service is provided,” she says. “When you recognize that everything you do is about the greater good and not servicing the self, that is where my sense of satisfaction comes in.”

Still, she acknowledges the challenges that can also come with a career in local government.

When it comes to working with her own staff, Mauldin-Jones believes that when someone – herself included – has a bad day, a bad council meeting, whatever, it is important to go home, embrace your loved ones, and reflect on what you have learned.

“You recognize what you can take from that day, drop all that personal drama, and ask: What nugget of that experience can I grow from?” she says. “Then, take that nugget, try to let go of the rest – and I say try, it isn’t always easy – and then pick up the pieces knowing you have been gifted a new day and give it everything you have. You see what you can do with that day to make it the best.”

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At the same time, she notes that there continue to be hurdles for women of colour in local government. In the years since her appointment to the role of City Manager, Mauldin-Jones says things haven’t improved nearly enough. As of 2020, there have only been seven African-American women to manage a city in Texas – a state with more than 1,200 towns and cities.

“I’m grateful for where I am, but do I feel a sense of accomplishment? In light of the numbers, I would have to say no,” Mauldin-Jones said. “There are still challenges to being accepted in local government as a woman, particularly as a woman of colour. I do feel the need to go above and beyond.” MW

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Sean Meyer is Senior Content Editor for Municipal World. During his 25-year career in journalism, Sean has covered municipal politics in several small- and medium-sized communities and gained an understanding of the structure and political framework of government.

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