Getting to Know Napa’s Newest City Council Members - Liz Alessio & Mary Luros
There’s a price to pay for being in a leadership position, and part of that price is spending hours and hours of time preparing for whatever task is at hand. As the newest members of the Napa City Council, Liz Alessio and Mary Luros are constantly researching issues that the City is facing.
“I remember when I was first appointed to Council in 2015,” said Mary Luros, who was selected from a group of sixteen to finish the council term that opened when Alfredo Pedroza was appointed to the Napa County Board of Supervisors. “My first Council meeting was days away, and I was given a 500 page agenda packet that I needed to review to prepare for the meeting. Seriously, 500 pages.”
“Being on City Council is another full time job,” said Liz Alessio, who with Luros, was elected to Council in 2018. It’s not just the Tuesday night meetings, either. “In addition to the nonprofit groups I support, I’m on four committees related to Council.”
“I feel like I have three full time jobs,” said Luros. “I’m a wife and mother of two, an attorney, and I sit on City Council.”
However, these are not words of complaint. Both women knew what they were getting into when they ran for office, and both love serving.
Mary Luros comes from six generations of walnut farmers. She attended St. Mary’s College, and then Golden Gate University for law school. She moved to Napa the day after the bar exam, to be with her now-husband Jason Luros. “It was 2008 and a terrible time to get hired as an attorney. Local firms were laying people off, not hiring.” She and Jason decided to start their own firm.
One of the first people Luros met in Napa was then-County Supervisor Bill Dodd, who told her she should apply for Leadership Napa Valley (LNV). Both she and Jason did – only he got accepted and she didn’t. That summer, Mayor Jill Techel, who runs the LNV program, called and told her a position had opened up, and she was invited to join. It was during LNV that she and Jason became engaged.
By 2014, Luros was in line to become president of the Kiwanis Club of Napa, one of the largest clubs in the state. That year she also gave birth to her first child, and a month later, the earthquake hit and devastated Napa. “Those two events made me rethink my involvement in our community,” she said. The following January, she was at a City Council meeting when members were discussing filling Pedroza’s seat. “I thought it would be a good way to get my name out there as someone interested in politics. Two weeks later, I was appointed to the position. I learned a lot over the next two years.”
Liz Alessio is a fourth generation Napan. Her great-great grandfather served on the Napa County Board of Supervisors from 1901 to 1904, and her father was a patrolman on the police force. Both of her parents “modeled the way,” said Alessio, serving on local non-profit boards. When a pioneer cemetery was vandalized, her father took it upon himself to restore it, and served as president for 53 years. These community values had a huge impact on the young Alessio.
She and her then-husband started a hot air balloon company, and Alessio then opened a destination management business. Both were successful, but they owned her, not the other way around. Her priority was raising three children, so she sold her interest. When the Queen of the Valley decided to begin a concierge program for their patients, Alessio signed on in 1996. She helped develop and ran the program for ten years, and then took on their Community Outreach/Benefits program. Meanwhile, she took classes at Napa Valley College, and eventually enrolled in Leadership Napa Valley.
Her experiences made Alessio acutely aware of community issues. “People deserve to live in dignity and good health. Some of our working families and elders are forced to make compromises about basic needs. There’s not enough affordable housing. Our schools are floundering, while poverty, homelessness, mental health issues and addiction are on the rise. That’s not right.” With the 2020 General Plan just around the corner, she knew the City needed strong leadership. “I approached a leader in our community, and told her she should run for City Council. She turned the tables on me; ‘No Liz, you should run.’ I asked Ed Henderson, who is one of the people I go to for advice, and he told me I should pursue the office.”
The two councilwomen are very different in many ways, but they share traits. “While it’s very important to say who you are and what you stand for, it’s just as important to listen to other people,” said Luros. “I do as much research on issues as I can,” said Alessio. “I rely on City staff, but I also do field trips and listen to as many people as I can.” Both stressed the need to stay open minded.
The demands on a City Council member’s time are enormous. Asked how she screens which calls she should answer and meetings she should take, Luros answers quickly. “I take all of them. If people want to talk to me as an elected official, I owe them that.” Still, Luros is aware that some people try to take advantage of her. “They pretend to be your friends and sometimes don’t tell the truth. You have to learn not to ignore red flags.”
At 36, Luros is younger than many of Napa’s leaders, which has challenges of its own. “It’s hard to be an elected official when you’re young. I’m sometimes tempted to bite my tongue on issues when I would otherwise share, but I have learned to trust my instincts. When I have a gut feeling about something, I need to just say it.”
Alessio counts on advice and counsel from her mentors, of which she has many. “Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and I like a broad range of opinions.” At the end of the day and armed with as much information as she can get, Alessio makes her own decisions.
Luros adds that, “One of the biggest things I learned during my first two years on City Council is that leaders need to be clear about who they are. If you don’t state where you stand on an issue, people will decide for you.”
Alessio and Luros had already proven their leadership capabilities before being elected to City Council. Now, all of Napa can benefit from their service.