Jessica Guinn said when people think about government, too often they think about the District of Colombia or the state capital.
“What happens locally really impacts you so much more at home,” said Guinn, who has been named Dunwoody’s first assistant city manager.
For her, a love of government started while she was in the Master of Professional Administration program at Kennesaw State University, from which she graduated in 2005. She started working as a planner for Henry County, then joined a private sector firm that served local governments.
In 2013, she became Woodstock’s community development director. She stayed until June 1, when she took one step closer to her dream job: Guinn said in an article published two years ago, when she started in Woodstock, that her dream is to one day become a city manager.
The opportunity to serve people close to home makes her feel like she’s making a bigger difference at home, Guinn said.
“When I was growing up, I was determined to be the first woman president,” Guinn said with a smile. “I think somebody might beat me to the punch, but at this point I’ve determined politics probably isn’t for me.”
She did a research assistantship where she looked at Marietta’s permitting processes, seeking to improve and streamline them. That’s where she said she realized she “likes processes.”
She enjoys finding ways to make processes easier to navigate and friendlier for people who aren’t familiar with them.
City Manager Eric Linton said her background fits the city’s needs. “It is not very often you come across someone with her qualifications and proven track record,” Linton said.
As assistant city manager, Guinn hopes to encourage more citizens to get involved with government. But she recognizes the difficulty members of working families with children have in finding the time to participate.
“I’m a perfect example,” she said. “I live in Cobb County, but I work over here, and I’m a mom and have baseball practice and all those things to deal with, so it is hard to find opportunities to participate in my own local government and my own community.”
She said she plans to continue finding opportunities for people to engage, participate and know what’s going on in ways other than showing up for City Council meetings.
She added that younger populations such as “millennials” seek less traditional methods of getting and staying involved, like social media, and that twice monthly council meetings just aren’t “practical” for many of them.
“Find places where people are going to be,” Guinn said. She hopes to engage Dunwoody residents by attending parades and other events where people generally feel more relaxed than in a formal public meeting.
Her work as a planner lends itself well to her plans for Dunwoody. Infrastructures, jobs and parks facilities are just some of the top priorities she has.
“Planning sets you up really well to have a good overview of government,” she said. “A lot of the skills I learned in planning are applicable in my new role.”
In her first 30 days in office, she wants to learn more about the character and priorities of Dunwoody. Understanding the city’s direction, which is moving at “warp speed,” she said, excites her.
City spokesman Bob Mullen said Guinn comes to Dunwoody at the perfect time. “As we grow as a city, it’s important to have somebody with that planning experience and that foresight to be able to guide the city in the right direction,” Mullen said. Guinn looks forward to the challenge.
“It’s exciting to be in a city that’s still a relatively new city and being a part of setting the foundation for the future,” she said.