By Linda Bausch
Each year in October, Marketplace Magazine shines a light on a person who has made an impact on the community. The 2022 leader being honored is Jill Techel—four-term mayor of the City of Napa—who was recently named 2022 Woman of the Year by Senator Bill Dodd. Upon my interview with Jill, I learned how her poignant story as a high school graduate was passed from father to child and back again. I learned what motivated her on the pathway to becoming a politician and how her work style was influenced by recognizing her own strengths, as opposed to emulating the strengths of others whom she admired.
. . . On Jill Techel
(LB) When you were young, what path did you wish to see your life take?
(JT) “I thought I would be a teacher or a social worker and get married and have a family in North Dakota and get involved in the community. My father was a business man and served on the local school board. He was president of the school board and handed me my diploma when I graduated. I was able to continue the tradition and handed both my children, Eric and Kristen, their diplomas!
“I just let things unfold. When I graduated college, three of us were going to Sacramento from North Dakota. We took one look at Sacramento and the freeways and headed up north. We ended up in Salem, Oregon, and that is where I got my first job as a professional Girl Scout helping organize troops, train leaders and help with summer camp preparation. I transferred with the Girl Scouts to the Napa Solano Council after two years in Oregon; that is how I came to be in Napa.”
(LB) Tell us about your work with the Girl Scouts and the transition from that into politics.
(JT) “Girl Scouts was working with volunteers and providing support and training so they could be successful. I learned how to work with people and support the troop leaders. I took that ‘work ethic’ into my political positions, not for it to be about me—but how I can make things be better.”
(LB) Were you planning to seek public office prior to Mayor Solomon’s tragic accident?
(JT) “I was on the Napa Valley Unified School Board when Mayor Solomon died. I had served on the Napa Parks and Recreation Commission before the school board. I liked what I was doing at the time and thought city council wouldn’t be a good fit with my strengths and talents. The Napa City Council thought differently, and appointed me to the position left vacant when they appointed City Council member Brad Wagenknecht, as mayor. It happened very quickly.”
(LB) What was your most daunting challenge during your tenure as Mayor of Napa?
(JT) “I was mayor for 16 years and we faced many disasters: flood, earthquake, fire, COVID, etc. The earthquake was the most intense for the city, but also rewarding because of the resiliency of the community. Everyone helped get Napa back on its feet. I was asked to present at a conference in Salt Lake City because I had so much experience with disasters.”
(LB) Tell us about some of the legislation you worked on or projects near-and-dear to you.
(JT) “Flood Control was a long project; we needed to get funding each year from the federal government for building the project. It was competitive and challenging. I became best friends with Senator Bill Dodd from us working together and strategizing how to get it done. Congressman Mike Thompson was always there for us and Napa.”
(LB) Please share insight about your collaboration with the local art community.
(JT) “We have come a long way in supporting art in the City of Napa. The Art Walk is visible and changes every 18 months to 2 years so we are bringing new art to Napa. I love the hanging flower baskets. The Napa Lighted Art Festival is an amazing project created by the Napa Parks and Recreation team. BottleRock and Napa Porchfest bring music.”
(LB) What is a common misconception others have of Napa that you would like to see change?
(JT) “What I try and focus on is Napa, like most cities, is a community of neighborhoods. They provide housing and schools for the locals. I was very strong about not permitting vacation rentals in local neighborhoods.”
(LB) What brought you the most joy in your position as Mayor of Napa?
(JT) “It was the little things. Working with students and helping explain how government works. We did a lot of tours and mock council meetings for the students who visited City Hall.”
(LB) How did your work/leadership style change over the years?
(JT) “I started on the city council having had training in problem solving at the school board. I came to the work on the council looking at interests and options and tried to get teams to focus on options, not positions. We need more problem solvers in local government and fewer advocates. Someone told me that when I joined the city council, I would have to leave my collaborative leadership style behind because now I was in a power position and in politics. I modeled that collaborative leadership can be very effective in government.”
(LB) Comment on a topic where you see a difference being made in the future.
(JT) “There are more women running for office and being part of the planning for the future. I was one of a handful when I started on the Napa City Council, and now we have many women serving in government. I hope that trend continues. It isn’t as common in other parts of the country.”
(LB) When you passed the mayoral gavel to Scott Sedgley, tell us how your departure was celebrated in the midst of COVID related event restrictions.
(JT) “When my term was up on the council it was during COVID, so we didn’t have the “traditional” big dinner send off, but I wasn’t disappointed with the creativity of the team and my last council meeting. They created a video so lots could participate, and I got a flag ceremony on film from the Boy Scouts, Congressman Mike Thompson, Assembly-member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Senator Bill Dodd, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff, Governor Gavin Newson, and all the current supervisors and mayors wished me well and thanked me for my service. I even got a clip from Steph Curry saying that we were both MVPs.”
(LB) I see you’re still very active in Leadership Napa Valley.
(JT) “I have been the program coordinator of Leadership Napa Valley since Class 10. We start Class 35 in September. I have been running the program for over 25 years. It is very rewarding to work with Napa residents who want to learn more about leadership and Napa County, and want to give back.”
(LB) Tell us about a leader who led the way for you.
(JT) “I often asked the class members of Leadership Napa Valley to share the qualities of the best leader they have worked with, and I add it has to be someone you know and had a personal connection with. I want them to review how someone leads, not just what they accomplished or got credit for accomplishing. Leaders aren’t perfect and they have a unique style. So, who would I mention who had an impact on me? It would be Sheila Daugherty, who I served on the Napa Valley Unified School District Board with. She was direct and sometimes a little confrontational, but she was always looking for the best decisions for the students. I tried to copy her style (for a day) —it didn’t work, and I realized that we are most effective as leaders if we work with the strengths we have and use them to lead. Leaders can be more effective if they can partner with others who have different styles, if they can all respect what each other brings. I don’t think I would have been mayor if not for her support, especially campaigning strategies and connecting me with the contacts she had.”
(LB) Are you fully retired now, or has your focus changed to another discipline?
(JT) “I still do Leadership Napa Valley, and love it when candidates call me to get my thoughts on their candidacy. Creating leaders for the future is still a focus, as are the grandchildren. I have four: Donovan and Carter, who are sophomores in high school, their brother Grant who is in the 6th grade, and Alexandra, who just turned six.”
From Jill’s early days with the Girl Scouts to her 2022 Woman of the Year status; from her family to the community-at-large—she has proven to be a thoughtful and considerate leader, guiding the next generations to success.
For information regarding Leadership Napa Valley, visit leadershipnapavalley.org.