What is the difference between practicing in the public sector and working with a private firm?

My undergraduate (degree) is in public administration. I had dreams of going to law school. But I got an undergrad in a (field) that would give me a fall-back position. I clearly saw myself in some sort of government role. That was my interest and background. I had worked with Ahlers & Cooney a lot as city attorney for Cedar Falls. They approached me about coming here, and I was at a point in my career where I wanted a little more challenge and variety. I can still work in my area of expertise and have a little more variety and a little more challenge.


When did you start thinking about changing careers?

I started talking with Ahlers near the end of January, then in February a district judge position came open. I had been a finalist twice before for a district court judge in Black Hawk County. Everybody was telling me the third time, you’re going to get it. Then I started thinking that I’m not sure I want that anymore. Then I started talking about this job with friends, and they said they had never seen me so excited. Then I went for a run with my dog and decided that I really wanted this Ahlers job. ... I have a child who’s going to be a senior at Cedar Falls High School. That was sort of a deal breaker. They immediately said no problem, we can work with you on that. I wasn’t going to move a child who was a senior in high school. So I’m here at least two days a week, but it kind of depends on what is going on. Our firm represents clients all over the state, so whether I leave from Cedar Falls or here, it doesn’t really matter.


How did you make the decision?

It just kind of landed in my lap. I had been with a private law firm in Cedar Falls. And I had been with the city of Cedar Falls for about 10 years. I was able to learn a lot about municipal law. It was nice to have one client. But I was ready for a change.


What were the highlights of working for Cedar Falls?

We partnered on a lot of things with the school district and the University of Northern Iowa. I liked seeing that cooperative effort between governmental entities. … Cedar Falls has a second-to-none city staff and is ahead of its times in a lot of ways. … We were one of the first cities that had a plan A and a plan B for health insurance. Now everyone does that. We had a number of civil service hearings where employees challenged and the civil service commission backed up management in terms of rules of conduct. I assisted in that process. Part of the role was making sure that public works wasn’t firing somebody for something that the police department let people get away with. I was the first in-house counsel in Cedar Falls, so that was instrumental in establishing that it was going to be easier to make things consistent.


What do you do when you’re driving back and forth between Des Moines and Cedar Falls?

My big investment was that I just got a new four-wheel-drive car. I grew up on four-wheel-drive. I learned to drive on it. Anyway, I invested in a new one and I treated myself to XM radio. Then I have an iPod that I hook up. I have my little therapeutic play list. They are songs that really speak to me.


What gets you through the day?

I have two mantras: That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger … and my other comes from Mark Twain. He says, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”


What do you do for recreation?

I like to read. I like to go to movies. My kids keep me busy. They are in soccer and karate and cross-country and they take music lessons. But the running is my sanity. That’s my think time. My dog (Wrigley) is my running companion. He’s very laid-back. He looks like Benji. He had a brother. Joe Camp, who is the director/producer of the Benji movie, wanted Wrigley’s brother as one of the Benjis. My claim to fame is that my dog is almost a Benji brother.