Meet Your Neighbor: Rachel Smetana serves Scottsdale for nearly 20 years

Paul Messinger and Rachel Smetana (submitted photo)

Name: Rachel Smetana

Occupation: Chief of Staff to Mayor Lane for the last four years and a city of Scottsdale employee for more than 18 years.

Why you chose to work in your field: In early 2000 I was running a construction materials testing laboratory and lived in a condo near the Valley Ho (the garden district). I was working about 70 hours a week in all sorts of weather, constantly covered in concrete or asphalt, and really burned out. I was biking around on a rare Saturday off and happened upon the city’s Human Resources building. I saw a posting for a Library Assistant at the Civic Center Library and took a chance (and a pay cut).

At the time I thought it would be a nice transitional spot while I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life, but marriage, two kids, and eight job titles later… The city of Scottsdale has rewarded me with many opportunities and I hope I keep paying that back with good stewardship of the public trust. I was lucky enough to join Mayor Lane’s team in December of 2011.

What I like most about what I do: I love doing my best to solve problems for citizens. I like policy discussions, the strategic planning processes, researching past actions, helping an idea transform into reality, and there is no better view of our terrific organization than my current role.

Where did you come from: I’m a third-generation Arizona native from Tucson. My husband is also a third-generation native born at what is now Honor Health Scottsdale Osborn. We’re very proud of our AZ roots. I serve on the board of the Scottsdale Historical Society and even though we are a young city compared to a lot of places, I think the history that we do have is important to know and share.

If I had picked a different occupation it might have been: I wanted to join the Foreign Services and be a diplomat. I was in college during the first Gulf War and my dad had some very strong feelings about that. If I’d ignored him I wouldn’t be in the wonderful place I am today, but I may always have this little gnaw of “what if.”

What is a challenging aspect of your job? The biggest challenge is to communicate with people who are upset about change. It makes sense for people to be anxious or concerned about something proposed near their home or business, and sometimes they are furious. When my husband was young he used to walk from his house near Pima and Shea through the desert to the McDowell Mountains and kick over “land for sale” signs in the area that is now Troon, DC Ranch, or McDowell Mountain Ranch because he disliked the thought of development there.

I’ve even found historical comments from citizens that did not want the first Goldwater’s Department Store at the corner of Scottsdale and Camelback because it would forever change the character of Scottsdale. Obviously that department store turned in to one of the city’s biggest economic engines and the housing developments at Troon, DC Ranch and McDowell Mountain Ranch are undeniably lovely. Although it’s a challenge and there are varying opinions on density and development, it’s a time-honored challenge. I don’t set the policy but I’m glad to do my part in helping people get the facts.

People who inspired me (and how): I am inspired by so many, but I’ll give this space for a big shout-out to Dr. Jan Gehler. In the last few years she’s been kind enough to make some time for me in a mentor role. She’s smart, classy, dedicated, hard-working, collaborative and really very cool. I hope a little of that has rubbed off on me. I join many in our community who are happy for her to have more time for herself and her family, but sad for us to lose her. Scottsdale is lucky to have enjoyed her leadership for the last 10 years.

One thing I want people to know about me: After my family, I am most dedicated to my community and feel truly honored and humble to have the opportunity to know so many of the stories and people that helped shape Scottsdale both past and present.

My advice to today’s youth: I’d just share a little of the laws of thermodynamics: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It only changes forms. I think being mindful of one’s reactions is what will change a situation.

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