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This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Women STaRs

Women STaRs Interview with Pat Britt

If you prefer, enjoy the audio podcast here: LISTEN

Pat Britt has served as City Clerk, Clerk of Council for the City of Cleveland since 2008. She is responsible for overseeing Cleveland City Council's Staff in the creation of policies and procedures, media relations, negotiation of contracts, management of City Council’s budget, and working with the 17 Members of Council and their Executive Assistants. Britt has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Howard University, a certificate in State and Local Government from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and is a Master Municipal Clerk.

This is an abridged transcript of this interview. To experience Pat's interview in full, please watch the video. 

 

Shanti: 

I want to thank all of you for listening today. My name is Shanti Harkness, and I’m the Media Manager for On Technology Partners, a woman-owned company addressing Cyber Security and Risk. As a woman-owned business for 30 years, we wanted to share the stories of women and the Struggles, Triumphs, and Reflections they face. That is why we started Woman STaRs. 

 

Join us as we share the reflections of women just like you that have survived struggles and embraced triumphs in their lives. Today we’ll be talking with Pat Britt. Pat, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. 

 

Pat: 

You are more than welcome. 

 

Shanti: 

So, tell folks a little bit about what you do, where you work, what it's like, how long you've been doing it? 

 

Pat: 

Okay. I work for Cleveland City Council. The overall umbrella is the city of Cleveland. Cleveland City Council is the legislative branch of government that comprises the full umbrella with the administration, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. And so, in the legislative branch of government, there are 17 members of Council. Each member of Council has an executive assistant, and then there are the rest of us who are the staff of Cleveland City Council. We make sure that the wheels stay on the track on the train.  

 

This is my 12th year now as the Clerk of CouncilI spent 13 years as a member of Council. And in January of ‘08, decided to take this challenge on. Our Clerk had left, and I wanted the personal challenge to see if this was something that I could do. The Clerk was very important, played a very important role, and without a Clerk there, it just seemed like staff would be rudderless. Now they were not because they're a talented staff, but you still have to have direction, leadership. And so, January 14, of 2008, I was sworn in by the Council as the Clerk of Council, and it is a phenomenal job. Once you realize everything that goes wrong is your fault, then people have to then listen to whatever the resolution to the problem is; I like that. 

 

Shanti: 

And clearly you can; you've been successful at it for many years. So, before we get into struggles, let's take just a couple moments and focus on your biggest triumphs. If you could just share a little bit about what happened why it was such a great triumph for youpersonally or professionally. 

 

Pat: 

I am the glass-half-full person. So, everything to me, whether it's a challenge or not, to me is a triumph. I don't look at specific triumphs, I don't look at specific things. I try to live in the moment and celebrate every single thing that happens to me. If it was a challenge, then what did I learn from that? If it was a gift, a blessing, then I'm very grateful. 

 

I do have to say, my daughter is beyond the kind of person that I ever thought I could raise. She is a phenomenal young woman. She is a principal planner, transportation planner for the county's Regional Transportation Planning Association; It's the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating AgencyNOACA. I sent her to school for pharmacy because I was thinking, sometime in my later years, she could probably prescribe some nice pharmaceuticals that would make my life easy. But she said, no, that's not what she wants. She didn't say that until after she applied to pharmacy school and did not get in, and came back home, finished an undergrad in city and urban planning, and then got her master's in urban planning.  

 

And for about a year, she was hired by the City of Cleveland under Jane Campbell, I believe was the Mayor. And it wasn't until the first community meeting I went to where she was a part of the planning staff, and they were talking about specific development, and I was in awe of her knowledge. I thought to myself, I guess she was rightshe's not a pharmacist, she's a planner. It was just so amazing. I was so proud of her. So, I think she is my greatest triumph, she is the thing that I get the most joy from. Now, she's really funny, but she got that from me. 

 

Shanti: 

It sounds like an absolutely phenomenal triumph and good for her, and you clearly did a wonderful job raising her So, we know that triumphs don't come without struggles. So, talk to us a little bit about what some of your biggest struggles have been in life. Again, this can be both personally and professionally. How you were able to get through them, how they affected you, what type of impact they had on your life and career and what really made them so challenging for you? 

 

Pat: 

I think just the whole struggle of learning, of trying to decide what it is you want to do. And I don't recall ever saying one thing, other than I believe I knew, as a teenager, maybe even a preteen, that I would be a social worker. Now, I'm not sure I knew what it was called, but I knew that I wanted to work with people on whatever their issues were. I believe in humanity, and I believe in treating people humanely. I'm not sure I knew that that meant social worker until later, because at one point I thought I'd like to be a lawyer. And then when I took a couple of law classes, I'm like, no, I want to know the law, but I certainly don't want to be in a courtroom practicing it. So that ended that.  

 

And I think I really just picked up on my inner messages and started in social work. I started in sociology, and then from there, went on to social work undergrad and then graduate degree in social work. And that is truly who I am: I am a social worker in every single thing that I do.  

 

didn't have any particular arena that I wanted to go into, and so I worked in many. I worked in adult mental health, which was phenomenal. I probably still miss it now, and I do get a chance to at least hone my skills in Cleveland City Council. So, I stayed in mental health a few years, and then I went into research and did educational research for a few years. Then I went into teaching in the School of Social Work, and advising students, and that was phenomenal. I did that for 18 years. I was in Council [for] 13, and all 13 years I was at Case in the School of Social Work, and that was a great synergistic partnership because students in the School of Social Work, I tried to get as many as possible into City Hall or City Council to do their field placements because there is, and particularly in Council, because there is a great need. To me, there's a great need for social workers in local government.  

 

But all of that was just a big discovery processyou know, two steps forward, five steps back, and I'm just trying to figure out what my message in life could be, what my mission in life could be, what would guide me. Learning as much as possible, in so many different arenas, is just challenging. It's a great challenge.  

 

didn't know about politics when I first got in office, and I probably didn't approach it from a policy standpoint. The things that you do downtown in committees is far more, to me, if you're a lawyer, I think you can understand it better. I think my wheelhouse was out in the community with people, and trying to listen to what their needs were; that was where I found myself as a Council person. I won't say a legislator because I probably didn't sponsor a whole bunch of legislation, but that just wasn't my strength. Realizing where your strengths are can be eye opening, can be sad – It could be a number of emotions, but at some point, you have to accept where your real gifts are and where they are not. 

 

Shanti: 

Did you have any tips or tricks that you've used throughout the years to help you get through those challenging times? 

 

Pat: 

Honestly, I do. I really just believe that I always went back to my social work core. Believing in the dignity and worth of people doesn't matter whether they agree or disagree with me. I can remember having many arguments: I think this way, you think this way but in the end, if I'm representing you, then I have to take your issues to the next step to make sure that those issues are then communicated. I can't always do something about them. You can't always help, and when you do, you're going to help some people, but not everybody. So, everyone didn't like me, but I realized that they had as much right to exist as I did, whether they agreed with me or not. Now, I'm not sure I would have thought that youngerI'd have been arguing with the best of them, you know, thinking that if I have this opinion, it must be valuable, but yeah, not really, and not always! 

 

Shanti: 

As women in this modern age, we have to balance so many things. How do you make sure that you maintain a work life balance so that one thing's not overwhelming something else? How do you maintain that balance? 

 

Pat: 

I'm not so sure I did it well before the pandemicThe pandemic actually gave me time to think about what actions and behaviors that I have that are bringing more value than others. So, having had time during this pandemic to really think about those things that are more valuable, should get a greater investment of my time. They're amazingI never did particularly like cooking, but now I actually find getting in the kitchen and thinking up a meal is somehow just very relaxing. That could be the wine I'm drinking while preparing meal, but you know, who knows? Right?  

 

Understanding that we have one life and doing those things that bring balance to you: spending more time with family, or I'm actually thinking because there was a time with the pandemic that you couldn't go to the gym, I love the water, so I'm in water aerobicsAlthough it's back open, I am more afraid of going because of COVID. And so now I'm thinking, wouldn't it be great if I could redo my deck and have a spot on there so that I could do my water aerobics there? I'm not sure I would have thought about that if I didn't have the time to actually think about what makes a difference, what improves the quality of my life at this time? And though I'm not particularly fond of being interviewed, I do like talkingso talking more with family and friends has become really important. I should say communicating because sometimes we're just doing it through GroupMe, or texts, or a couple of weeks ago we had our cousins Zoom happy hour and it was so much fun. It was hilarious. I don't know that I would have thought about these things prior to the pandemic. I'm not sure I would have set out to be more purposeful in my actions prior to the pandemic. 

 

Shanti: 

As women, we juggle so many different thingswe've got career, family, household responsibilities, sometimes illnesses, caregiving. What do you think are some things that employers can do to help make women's lives easier with balancing all of those different aspects of life? 

 

Pat: 

I do believe, particularly in political office, we really need more women in local government, probably in all levels of government, but I can only speak to local. What I believe we bring is a calmness, a willingness to negotiate and talk things out, but I don't have a workforce that is all women. And so, I try to rely on my social work teachings, which is to meet everyone where they are, whether they are male or female, and try to provide as much or as many supports as possible because we have men that are caring for families as well. And so, really trying to connect to what's human in the workforce that I work with, that I direct, to me is what's most important. 

 

I do believe that women bring a certain calmness and a willingness to negotiate and are probably overall, less represented in the workforce, except for certain industries like social work is very female-headedI try not to distinguish between men and women's differences in the workforce because they all need support, they all have things that they're juggling; they have sick children, they have illnesses themselves, and some days where they just would rather be somewhere other than work. And I can relate to that, and try to give them a lifeline so that if you don't feel like coming, that's okay. I'm fortunate in that the people that I work with are very dedicated to their jobs and they're very good at what they do.  

 

I often think of myself as a conductor, like an orchestra conductor. So, I don't know all of their jobs, I don't know, all of research, legal, legislative, communications, IT; those are not all strengths in my wheelhouse. But as a conductor, I can read music, and my job is to make sure that all of the musicians have everything they need and that the work we do is harmoniousWe're not working against each other, but in the grand scheme of things, we are making beautiful music together. And that's how I look at myself in this position. 

 

Shanti: 

As a woman, how do you define success, and how did you know that you had become successful? 

 

Pat: 

I'm not sure I am, but I know that I love what I do. And even if I weren't doing this, I told you, I’m the glass half full person. I'm gonna find something that I can resonate to in whatever it is I do. If people don't run and scream when they see me, and hide, then I think that’s success. And I'm sure some have at some point, but I really think it's just finding a way to exist and allow others to exist. Who's going somewhere because I'm here? Nobody. I mean, it’s not my world, I'm just a part of it. Again, I'm not sure at 15 or 25, or 35, I'm not sure I thought this, but I do now, and it's the way I lead my life. 

 

Shanti: 

Wonderful, thank you. So, what would you say is the best advice that you've ever received? 

 

Pat: 

Oh, I love this. So, when I was in graduate school, I had a good friend Denise Revell. And Denise had this wonderful grandmother who had all these fabulous sayings. My two favorite ones were: A lazy man will kill himself,” and, Don't say so muchwon't have so much to take back. And that one, “Don't say so much, won't have so much to take back,” that I think is the best advice ever because words matterso they should be chosen carefully, and when they are not, you know about it. 

 

I know when Denise told me those two things, I didn't understand the first one. So, one day we may have been heading to class, but I remember us being in a parking lot. And I think we were going into a building of some sort. So, I'm walking in front of these cars that are parked, and instead of walking around because, you know, maybe it was too many steps, I'm trying to go in front of the cars, and then tripped on one of the concrete dividers that cars park up against. So, I didn't fall, I just tripped and look like an idiot.  

 

SoDenise said, “A lazy man will kill himself. I'm like, oh, that's what that means! Okay. I should have walked around. I was fortunate because I was still in grad school when I understood that. It took me a while to understand Don't say so much, won't have so much to take back. Not just to understand it, but to have experiences with it because you know when it's happened to you.  

 

Shanti: 

So, we're nearing the end of our discussion. I know I said I wasn't going to call it an interview, but we're nearing the end. So, just take a moment and reflect on something that you wish you would have known sooner in life, and then share that. 

 

Pat: 

I always say, I'm a social worker, so I don't do math. I probably wish I would have known more about finance and managing finances because I did learn that. I didn't start learning that though till I was 40 or beyond, and I didn't really have a respect for it younger. I was a reader and I didn't read any math books. So, I wish I would have had a better understanding of finance and how that really impacts people, how it impacts systems. Now I understand municipal financing very well. Part of it was being on the Finance Committee when I was on Council; that helped a lot, but I think having that knowledge earlier would have helped me have more of an appreciation of how systems impact people's individual lives. Those systems, particularly because they count on money and funding to operate, I wish I would have had a better understanding of that. It was just easier to dismiss it by saying, Well, I'm not good at it, so I don't like it. I don't want to learn it. That served me for a while. 

 

Shanti: 

Thank you for sharing that. Do you have any pearls of wisdom or any advice that you would give to a young woman beginning their career? 

 

Pat: 

Yes, I would say what Denise's grandmother said, Don't say so much, won't have so much to take back. I would also say, don't be afraid to ask anything. You just have to understand words matter, so decide how you're going to ask it, but don't be afraid to ask anything. And don't be afraid to show where your interests are. There's absolutely no downside in showing where your interests are. If your company or your employer can't appreciate that, then you look for another one. 

 

Shanti: 

Pat, it has been an absolute privilege speaking with you today. Thank you so, so much for taking this time. 

 

Pat: 

Thank you. Thank you for making it comfortable for me. It really was a conversation and some things I hadn't thought of in years. So, thank you, Shanti, for making it very pleasant experience. 

 

Shanti: 

Absolutely. That's all for this episode of Women STaRs. If you'd like to nominate a business woman to be interviewed for Women STaRs, please email their contact information and your reason for nominating them to stars@ontechpartners.comMy name is Shanti Harkness, until next time, have a great day. 

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