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Episode 135 Guest Tomika Monterville

Tomika Monterville of the San Antonio Transportation Department takes us inside her journey to helm this new department, why she’s so excited about San Antonio, and what it’s going to take to be successful there.

Cohen: Josh Cohen

Monterville: Tomika Monterville

F: Female Speaker

Cohen: I hope you’re ready for an episode unlike any that we have had before.  For Tomika Monterville, transportation is her personal ministry.  Today on The Movement podcast, you’ll learn how that ministry is serving the good folks in San Antonio with humility, empathy, and donuts.  Yep, donuts.  Let’s go.

F: The freedom of movement to access jobs, education, and social activities is a fundamental human right, but that freedom is not distributed equitably, undermining our ability to create vibrant and sustainable communities for all.  Welcome to The Movement, where we talk with the leaders who are reshaping their communities with brave decisions, inspired advocacy, and a stubborn unwillingness to accept the status quo, all in an effort to inspire the next generation of leaders.  Here’s your host, Josh Cohen.  

Cohen: Tomika Monterville leads the City of San Antonio’s new Department of Transportation.  Prior to joining the City of San Antonio, Tomika was recently the director of planning and development for Lynx, the public transit system serving the Orlando, Florida area, and transit manager for Lake County, Florida.  Welcome to The Movement, Tomika.

Monterville: Thank you, Josh.

Cohen: I read somewhere—I think it was with your introduction in San Antonio—that you have the good fortune of transportation being your personal ministry.  So I want to dig into that a little bit.  I want to—

Monterville: Ooh, Josh, you ready to go to church?

Cohen: Yeah, let’s do this.  Tell us a little bit about that and how you ended up there in San Antonio.

Monterville: Yes.  I actually said that during the Transportation and Mobility Committee of the City Council here in San Antonio.  Prior to my arriving, we—I was introduced to the committee and members of the council.  And I honestly do feel really, really blessed to really have found transportation, because I didn’t know about this stuff.  Like, nobody goes to school and says, “Yeah, I want to be a transportation planner.”  I fell into transportation planning, and when I did, I really felt as though it was the nexus between my desire to help my community, my desire to learn, and also just my love of all things that move.

I’ve always—one of my first loves was riding in the car with my mom.  I grew up in Southern California, and we moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to Los Angeles when I was about five.  And I recall my mom would get lost, and she would tell me, “We’re not lost.  We’re just finding a new way home.”  So [LAUGHTER] after years of that, you know, you get older—and so I always loved cars, I always loved going.  My mother used to say I had the “go disease.”  Any time someone said, “Go,” I wanted to go.  And, you know, in L.A., you go to LAX to fly out.  I just always loved the airport.

So, after graduating from Howard University in Washington, D.C., I didn’t have a job.  I had several jobs, but at that point, I said, “Okay, I got to go back home.”  And when I went back home, my uncle, Jonathan Leonard [ph], got me a job at Metro in L.A.  I didn’t know what the hell transit, transportation planning was.  I didn’t even know that was a thing.  And growing up, you know, it was RTD—rough, tough, and dirty—you know, that’s what it was before it was LA Metro.  I’m aging myself.

But nonetheless, I was working—Karen Heit was my first manager in transportation, over 20 years ago.  And I worked on the South Bay Area planning team, and I learned about, okay, you know, you get on the bus, you complain to the bus driver, “You know, you late, da da da da da,” but then when you work for a transit agency, you learn that, okay, he’s not running nothing; he’s just driving his bus.

Cohen: Mm-hmm.  That’s right.

Monterville: So I learned about planning, what it was.  And, you know, like as they say, the rest is history.  So I say it’s my ministry because I feel like a disciple and a preacher sharing this stuff with people about what transportation planning is, how it determines so much—transportation determines where you live, where you work, where your kids go to school, what time you get up.  You know, you make all of these decisions predicated on how to move and how to get there.  And I just feel really blessed when I think back on my career, and I think back, and I think about the things I want to do in the industry.  I feel really blessed because I wake up loving my job.  I love the people I’ve met as a result of finding this career.

And I didn’t even know it was something that I needed, and that’s why I say it’s a ministry because, a lot of times, no matter your faith, when you go to temple, when you go to the mosque, when you go to church, when you go, you know, to the meeting house, you feel connected.  And I feel so connected to this industry.  I feel very connected to what it has blessed me with, with my life.  And that’s how you feel, I think, when you fellowship with people.  You feel really—you feel the grace.  You feel not that it’s hard, and, you know, I’ve had pastors who say, you know, “People who come to church, they’re not healed—you know, they’re coming to get a healing.”  And I think people who come into transportation, they don’t have all the answers; they’re trying to figure it out.

And that’s why I think it’s a ministry, and it has been such a blessing for me.  And I like to spread the good gospel of transportation, Josh.  Anyone who will listen to me—and everybody knows I talk a lot—I’m always just sharing something about it, and that’s why, you know, that’s the gospel of transportation, and helping people with this good word about mobility.  You know, and whenever I get shared, I just like to share it because the other thing is transportation is the post office of the 21st century.  You know, there are so many jobs, and it is essential to everything now, and there are so many aspects of transportation that people can go into.  And you can build your whole life around it.  So that’s why it’s a ministry for me.

Cohen: You know what is so fascinating about that is that it’s become this important thing for you that you’re like living in fellowship.  Right?  And so—but it’s so random.  Right?  Like—

Monterville: Yeah.

Cohen: —the fact that your uncle kind of said, like, “Hey, you know, come do this internship,” it’s so random.  And you mentioned that story about LAX and kind of being fascinated by airports.  And I may have shared this story at some point, but the reason I ended up at TransLoc was I was—it was between my first and second years of business school.  I was interning for the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center, and they were assigning students to various startups—technology and biotech startups.  And one of the startups was TransLoc.  And they were trying to find the right person to put there because, again, transportation technology, you know, not everyone is going to fit with that.  And I remember that one of the lines on my resume was “I appreciate airport architecture.”

Monterville: [LAUGHS]

Cohen: Which, you know, I always love kind of looking at the different airports and how they’re set up. 

Monterville: Yes.

Cohen: And so they saw that line, and they said, “Do you like transportation?”  I was like, “Well, yes, I do.”  And they’re like, “Bingo.  We got our guy.”  So—

Monterville: See?

Cohen: Again, totally random.  Right?

Monterville: It’s totally random.  And because when I did find out about transportation, I had this great internship, I—but one thing about being back home is I hated the traffic.  By the time I had graduated undergrad and, you know, made the decision that I wanted to make this a career, we had 24-hour HOV; we did not have 24-hour HOV when I grew up.  So I said, “This is crazy.”  Just too much traffic, and I wanted to get back to the East Coast.

And airport planning was something, when I started doing my research on schools to really—because the challenge was, at that time, my resume read like a secretary who had a transportation internship, and then I did all this great stuff in my internship that you do in the field, but that’s all I had.  I didn’t have a degree.  I had a finance degree.  So I could never get a job doing planning.  And I had to make that decision.  “Do I want to go to planning school?”  And then when you start doing the research, “Oh, I want to do transportation.”  They said, “Oh, logistics.”  And I’m like, “Uh, no; no supply chain here.” 

And I came upon Florida State, and they had an airport planning curriculum, and I said, “Oh my gosh, this is perfect.”  So that’s how I ended up at Florida State.  And then when I get down there, Josh—I tell everybody this—read the most recent course guide in courses that have been offered.  I get down here, and they haven’t offered these classes in a decade.

Cohen: [LAUGHS]

Monterville: I said, “Oh, what the—what the—what?”  I said, “Okay.”  So at the time, I was an NTD analyst.  So I had just decided, because I was a secretary during my time in undergrad, and I had been a bank teller—I was a secretary for Howard University’s private practice.  And I had planned, like you, to get an MBA, get my tuition remitted, you know, from Howard, working there.  And then when I went home, got this internship, this whole new world was opened to me.  And I just decided, “Okay, I love transportation; if I’m going to work in transportation, I’ll be a secretary, I’ll clean the toilets in a secretary—as a transportation company—I’ll do whatever just to be around transportation.”

So I got a job as an office manager for GIS/Trans, Limited, a firm up in Maryland.  And then I just continued to look for that planning thing, but I still didn’t have the degree.  So I came upon a job to be a National Transit Database analyst on a contract with Signal Corporation for the FTA.  So I did that, but then I had to bite the bullet, and I think a lot of people, you get to that point in any career field where you say, “Okay, is it going to work out?  What am I going to do?”  But I was so blessed and fortunate that I knew I wanted to do this thing.  Like, that bug, that seed that was planted in L.A., it just opened up, like, all these opportunities in my mind, and I wanted to get that degree.  So, I bit the bullet.  I quit my job.  And I said, “I just got to go hard.”  You know, you think, “I’ma be broke.  If I’ma be broke, I’ma enjoy this.”  You know, so I got an assistantship.  

This is the other thing.  One of my passions is also mentoring people in this field, and I made the decision that, “Okay, I can—”I did the cost-benefit analysis; you know, that business school stuff helped.  I did the CBA, and I could either go to UVA part-time, keep my job at Signal as a transit analyst, and it would probably take me about five years to get my master’s, or I could just bite the bullet, go two years full-time, and get that degree, so I could start doing this stuff.

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: And after doing the cost-benefit analysis, I shifted.  You know, I made the plan.  I didn’t know anybody in Florida.  I—you know, all I knew was Miami, what you see on TV.  And, you know, I said, “I’m going here.”  I made that decision—oh, I lied, Josh.  So, for real, though, this is the real-real.  See, people don’t tell you the real-real; you got to know the real-real.

So, at the time, I had a boyfriend who was in the Air Force, and he was stationed at Moody Air Force Base, which is a couple hours from Tallahassee.  So, you know, in your mind, I’m thinking, “I’m going to marry him.  He’s going to ask me to marry him.”  So I’m going to pick a school, but my business mind—

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: Because my mind was in business.  I’ma pick a school close to him, but ole girl getting her degree—I’m not going to be a glorified housewife—

Cohen: Right.

Monterville: —you know, Air Force wife and all this stuff.  I was like, “I’m getting my paper due.  Forget what you heard.”  So I picked that school, airport planning.  Relationship didn’t work out.  School didn’t have airport plan—you know, like things happen for a reason.

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: But the blessing was I got my degree, and I figured out that this was where I needed to be at that time in my life.  And I think a lot of times, when you really want something, especially in transportation, you may not get that job; it may not pan out the way you expected it, but you got to look at it as an opportunity to shift.  And it’s an opportunity to be creative and go down a path that you didn’t think was going to be the path.

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: And that’s happened to me so many times, but that is what led me to San Antonio.  I was very fortunate to have worked a lot of great jobs at the federal, state, local level, and worked on some really great projects.  And at the time that I decided I wanted to be an executive and go down this career path, there were a lot of obstacles in my way.

One, there was—there were many people who looked at me as a Black woman who did not have what they thought I needed to be in these positions, and they made decisions about whether or not I was right for those positions.  But when I look at my resume, and in 2021, I could tell you, Josh, I got a lot of Black girl magic.

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: My resume is bomb.  I have a huge village of transportation and non-transportation mentors and leaders and mentees who actually have helped me get to this place.  And I just want people to know, in this industry, that it’s not about where you are, it’s where you are going.  And you have to keep that in mind, that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  If you really love what you do, you don’t let those obstacles stop you.  But you have to be honest.  I was very discouraged after not getting accepted for jobs.

And just before the beautiful people here in San Antonio—Erik Walsh, the city administrator—the city manager, and Rod Sanchez, assistant city manager, who is my boss, when I interviewed with them, I felt so valued.  I felt so appreciated.  I felt that the team that brought me on, the recruiting team, they supported me.  And that is so important when you’re seeking to go from the manager director level to an executive position, that you surround yourself with people and you work with organizations who want to support you.  And that extends throughout everyone here in San Antonio, but it began with the support of the recruiting team, who helped me get here.

And, at the same time I was interviewing for this position, I was interviewing for another high-profile position in another city.  And I had that recruiter tell me I was overvaluing myself.  And I think it’s so important for people to recognize their worth and to know your value.  Because had I listened to what someone else deemed my worth, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.  I would probably recoil and say, “Oh, I don’t have it.”  But then what I’ve done is I’ve looked at resumes, I’ve done the work, I’ve gotten the degrees, I’ve gotten the experience, I’ve—as they say, I’ve leveled up.  You know, I invested in myself.  I paid for a career coach, who was amazing, Dr. Carol Parker Walsh.

And these are the things that I think we have to have these conversations with young professionals.  I love transportation.  I want this industry to be successful, but I also want this industry to be representative of the people we serve.  And so equity, inclusion—even though it’s the buzzword now, that’s my life.  You know, when I hire, I don’t hire just for those technical skills, I hire for fit.  I hire for not just the degrees but the experience.  I hire—I want a rainbow coalition around me— 

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: —when I come in the workplace.  I want to have people of different faiths, different ages, different backgrounds, because that makes us better.  Really, when we look at the work that we do—and I tell everyone, as many times as I can—it’s not about what Tomika has, what’s on her resume; it’s about how you lead that team you’re working with.  If they’re—from pillar to post, they don’t know how to do a presentation, they don’t know how to do anything, and you’re keeping them down, and you’re not letting them grow, or you stay in a position for 10 years when you know you’re tired and need to leave, because you want to just keep getting that check, and you’re not growing people, you need to check yourself.

And I think it’s, that’s what leadership is.  That was one of the questions you asked.  You know, what is effective leadership?  Effective leadership is knowing when you need to get out the way; you need to hire to your weaknesses, not to your strengths; you need to recognize that there is value in the village, and that village, whatever you created, whatever it is, you have to make sure you’re giving back.  And I feel so supported in the City of San Antonio.  It is freaking awesome.  That’s why I love me some San Antonio.  San Antonio.  

Let me tell you this.  So, the other day, we were on a call with a consulting firm supporting us here, and they were sharing some of the great work that they had done.  And I said, “You know what?  San Antonio is the bomb.”  And I said, “You know, I love a catchphrase.  I love an acronym.”  Because you know you got to love an acronym in transportation; come on now.  So, I said, “BASA”—“Bomb-Ass San Antonio.”

Cohen: [LAUGHS]

Monterville: Like, BASA, that’s us.  That’s what’s up.  BASA, we are BASA.  Because I just think there are so many things that—I was stalking the city before I got here, because I really liked a lot of the things that were going on.  You know, it had a woman city manager, a female city manager who is just doing really great and different things.  And it’s really rare that you see a woman in a position of power, you know, really shifting the culture.  And that continued with Erik Walsh, and the culture here is just so real and authentic.

I mean, my city has an African American affinity group.  I said, “That’s some private industry stuff, y’all.”  You know, there are public entities that are doing these things and recognizing after the murder of George Floyd, we got to do things different.

Cohen: Right.

Monterville: And I think leadership—and that’s, you know, my model is the leaders who are here.  Our assistant city manager, Maria is—she is just a beast.  And when you see women—you know, a Latine sister, you know, Black girl, Brown girl magic up in here, it’s a beautiful thing to see that.  I see White men doing big things.  I see a beautiful tapestry of cultures and people coming together to help people.  And, I think, that epitomizes what transportation is.  I think, it epitomizes what our country is about.  And, I think, it epitomizes the hallmark—hallmarks of great leaders who create a culture and an opportunity for people to shine, no matter what your gift is.  And that’s what I love about the city.  That’s what I love about, you know, The Movement, is that you’re—this platform actually creates an opportunity for people to share stories that uplift, empower, and inspire people to do things differently.

And if I could just share something that’s going to help somebody say, “Hey, you know, I think I want to do something different.”  That’s what leadership is all about, is sharing with people—being transparent, being vulnerable.  You know, you have to show people your weaknesses.  I tell people, don’t let the suit fool you, boo; it ain’t been easy, but I’m still here.  And this doesn’t define me.  You know, I have a wonderful and amazing husband.  My husband found this job—

Cohen: [LAUGHS]

Monterville: —on Transit Talent, Josh.  What about that?  You know, like, my husband is my biggest champion, my biggest supporter, and he told me—and this is what has helped me kind of walk in my brilliance besides my village, you know, my coach.  I’ve had a husband who has supported me.  He understand what this trans—first of all, he didn’t know what transportation planning was, like most people don’t know; like, my family don’t even know what I do.  Some of them do now, you know.  But he said to me, “You sell yourself short.”  And I think women—I think people who are, you know, marginalized groups, we sell ourselves short.  I see it all the time.  I think we have to start not being so hard on ourselves, and not letting other people’s expectations and standards dictate how we roll.

And that’s really what I’m about.  I’m about being honest.  I bring donuts into work, one, because I love donuts, but donuts make people happy.  Even when we had those bad days, you know, “You want a donut?”  You know, “Oh, your budget wasn’t approved.  You want a donut?”  You know what I mean?  So—

Cohen: I’m taking this off my wall here, just so you can see this.  Those of you at home who don’t—who can’t see that, obviously, it’s a hand-painted 12 donuts that was painted by—

Monterville: Oh, my gosh.

Cohen: —by a Duke student.

Monterville: Josh, we’re going to be friends forever, bro.  Look, look here.  Look here; let me tell you.  I got my deputy a sticker that said, “Do it for the donuts.”  So, of course, we’re all trying to be healthier and everything.  With the pandemic it’s shifting the things we think about.  But I just feel so much better when I bring in donuts.  I just feel like—I feel like there are things you just can’t do, you don’t have the power to do.  But I have the power of donuts.  And there’s this amazing donut place here in the city, it’s called Art of Donut, and we bring it in, and it’s just like bacon on donuts.

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: We had a place in Florida we used to bring.  It’s just so beautiful.  Don’t you love donuts?

Cohen: I love donuts.  I love donuts.  [LAUGHS]  Well, I want to—so, I want to highlight a couple things that you said there that kind of resonated with me.  One, obviously, you did the work.  Right?   So I’m putting that aside, because, like, you did that.  You did all the work.  Right?  You put all that in.  But the other thing that I thought was equally important is that you recognize the environment where you were going to be respected and, like—and you didn’t try to, like, force something to work.  Like, you kind of found the right environment, and I can certainly tell.  You know, I haven’t been to San Antonio for a few years, but now I’m going to come back because—

Monterville: You got to come back.  I’m just going to warn you, Josh.  You might want to relocate, but don’t tell everybody.  So this is the conundrum: You want people to know how wonderful it is, but then you don’t want people to know how wonderful it is.

Cohen: Yeah, I know, I know.

Monterville: Because people are coming.  They’re coming.

Cohen: I know, I know, I know.  So, I think that’s just so important, that you’re in an environment where folks can appreciate you, and you didn’t force it, and you really said, “All right, they’re here.  They’re seeing my value.”  And when you find that—when you find that, you’ve done the work, and then you find people that appreciate that, like, that’s the magic.  That’s what you’re creating.  And so I want to kind of build on that a little bit.  You’re in this new Department of Transportation.  It’s just been created.  What is success going to look like for y’all?  What are you trying to build?

Monterville: I have to applaud the city and the city council here in San Antonio for making the decision in supporting the creation of the department.  And this is really critical.  There are a lot of cities that are breaking off or splitting up their public works and transportation.  So I had the good fortune of being in Washington, D.C.  I’ve worked for the District Department of Transportation, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.  And I worked there during a time when there was a lot of transition, when these things—like, you know, bicycle and mobility and circulators and all of these different trends, you know, almost 20 years ago, were coming to fruition.

And that’s essentially where we are in San Antonio.  We didn’t have that population 20 years ago that necessitated the shift to an actual department that focuses on how people move.  And that’s what I try to remind my colleagues and people in the city and the community about, is it’s going to take us time.  This new department was created so that we can understand and actually develop plans and develop a foundation to support how people want to move.

And let’s face it.  Everyone does not want to drive a car.  Everyone does not want to ride a bike.  Everyone does not want to get on a scooter.  People have different desires in how they move and where they move, and the frequency, and their needs in order to facilitate the environment that’s safe, number one, and also that supports the sustainability goals of the city.

So what I would like for our department to represent for the city is a place where we can create mobility options that are informed by conversations with the community.  So for many years, we were trying to support the mobility options within an organizational structure that was not designed to support mobility.  We had a public works agency.  I worked for the Prince George’s County Department of Transportation, as the transit associate director.  And what I know is that public works agencies were designed to build stuff, y’all.  They weren’t designed to do mobility.

Cohen: Right.

Monterville: So you were expecting a public works, a construction department and a maintenance department, to do mobility.  And so when the city made the decision to create this department, the city and the community and those who support the elected officials said, “Yes, that’s what we want.”  And this department is going to be that center of mobility options.

I want us first to be deliberate in our documents and deliberate in establishing a process by which we engage the community and have conversations about how they want to move, and support the community in creating that network of movement for them.  So if they want bike lanes, we want to give them bike lanes.  But we’re not going to do it—and that’s what I remind people; Rome wasn’t built in a day.  This is a marathon.  We have to first create the plans that support creating that safe bicycle network, having a Vision Zero program where we are actually walking the walk and making the tough decisions about not doing things the same way we’ve been doing them.

And I—someone has died, either a pedestrian or a cyclist has died, here in the city, every month since I have been here.  And one of the things I have said is we have to stop cosigning the crazy.  Our Vision Zero program cannot be continuing to install bike infrastructure on roadways that are—have posted speeds and design speeds above 35 miles per hour, because we know you’re going to die.  Like, if we know that but we keep putting the infrastructure there, we’re actually facilitating your early demise as a cyclist.  We don’t want to do that.

I want to be—I want this department and our team to represent people who are engaging with the community.  I don’t care what your title is; you got to talk to the community if you’re going to work with this department.  It’s not about what Tomika wants.  It’s not about what the team wants.  It’s not about what the council member wants.  It’s what the community wants.

And that’s our goal, is to support SA Tomorrow, our comprehensive plan, and our regional activity centers, and the land use plans that have already been adopted.  And we want to support those adopted land use plans with transportation plans and mobility plans, informed by how people want to circulate and move, based on those decisions.

And, I think, the legacy of this department will be a department that is engaged, a department that’s about to get a lot of federal money, honey, because we submitted a RAISE grant, Josh.  We about to get this money.  Don’t be jelly, y’all.  We are going to—we are working on integrating our amazing Howard Peak Greenway Trail network, which is a loop around the city considered a recreational trail.  We’re going to integrate that into our bicycle master plan update.  And I think most people look at bike mobility as an option.  The demographics in our city, people need bikes to get to work.

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: You know, the real talk is we need to stop considering—it’s a luxury.  I’m a person sitting in privilege.  You’re sitting in privilege.  We choose to ride our bikes.  You know, my brothers and sisters here in this city, they need a bike to get to work because they can’t afford a VIA monthly pass, or an annual pass.  And I think the real talk is we have to get out of our tried and true methodologies of assuming that what is good for us is how everyone else moves.

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: You know, and I think this will be a department that is strong foundationally.  I really believe in really good project management.  You’re going to—if you hire someone from this Department of Transportation who worked under Tomika or my deputy, you’re going to hire a strong project manager.  You’re going to hire a collaborative project manager.  They might be an engineer.  They might be a planner.  They might be a special projects—whatever their title is, don’t get it twisted.  All of us will have the same skill.  Matter fact, I’ve been saying, this team is going to be so dynamic, Josh, you won’t know who is who and what their expertise is, because we’re going to be marrying engineers and planners such that you’re going to be afraid to talk to that planner because you might think they’re an engineer because they’ve been around so many great engineers here in the city and our Public Works Department that we have to feed off of each other.

And I think Dr. Tim Chapin at Florida State said, “You have to recognize your area of expertise may not be the solution.”  And, I think, when we all get out of our ways and recognize that the solutions may not come from our area of expertise, it opens us up to breathe in and take in what other people are saying.  Because, as you know, in the field, you get a lot of issues.  And you think just because that issue is brought to you, that your area of expertise is going to be the solution.  But often the solution is going to come from a totally different area of expertise.  And we have to be open to that, and we can’t be wedded to, you know, “I’m a planner, so we got—”  

You know, I call us hippy-dippy planners because that’s what most people think; you know, planners are the hippy-dippy—you know, “Oh, sustainability, green,” yeah.  We are that way, but we also can be very deliberate and tactical and technical and have that little engineering fire, but we can also be very engaged and informed with the community.  And we’re so diverse, but I love the beauty of seeing someone who’s from my field but they have a body of knowledge.  I like to call it the holistic planner.  You can’t just have—and that’s how you’re able to pivot—right—because you have these gifts in all these different areas.  It makes you an asset to whoever is going to bring you onto their team.

And I just want to be a vessel to help people get to those places where they want to be, and I think that’s what this department will be known for, great professionals who are great to work with, and we have—and the other thing the department is going to be known for is donuts because—

Cohen: [LAUGHS]

Monterville: And it’s going to be known for donuts, and we’re going to have fun.  It’s not always easy, but I think we have to look at how blessed we are because we do sit in positions of power, no matter your title.  Because you’re here, helping inform what the city is going to look like in the future, and that’s a gift, to be able to be a part of that.

Cohen: So, the word you didn’t use but I think was underlying a lot of that was “humility.”  Right?

Monterville: Yes.

Cohen: And, you know, obviously, you know—and I’m drawing the distinction between kind of the strong, you know, resume and personality and so forth that you have, and but also the humility to say, you know, “Hey, just because, you know, I’ve studied this, doesn’t mean it’s the right answer.”  I thought that quote was—from Dr. Chapin was a great one because, you know, I guess the—what is it?  The other analogy people use is, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Right?

Monterville: [LAUGHS]

Cohen: You know?  And so—but I think that’s so true.  And certainly a conversation I had with Charles Brown, you know, he talks about that, you know, when he was a consultant, you know, they kind of brought him in; it’s like, “All right, well, you’re the consultant.  You have all the answers.”  It’s like—

Monterville: [LAUGHS]

Cohen: “Well, not actually.  I mean, actually, the folks here have all the answers.  That’s why I’m talking to the folks who are walking down that street every day or biking down that street every day or taking the bus every day.  They’re the ones that have the answers.  I’m just the one facilitating that.”

Monterville: Exactly, exactly.

Cohen: And so that humility, I think, is so, so important.  And, again, that’s what I kind of heard there that really spoke to that.  And not to make this all about donuts, but I’m going to bring it back to donuts, which is that—

Monterville: [LAUGHS]  I love you, man.  [LAUGHS]

Cohen: No, but here’s what I love about that, is that’s serving others.  Right?  You are making a small gift out of it.  You say, “We’re going to be known for the donuts.”  Right?  And in my mind, where I went with that is like, at every event you go to, you can have donuts.  Right?  Like, you could be like, “We have a line item in the city budget for donuts.”  Right?  But I think that could actually go somewhere because, again, what you’re doing there is, like, you’re saying we’re not just—you know, we’re not this, like, holier than thou; it’s like we’re breaking bread.  Going back to the ministry stuff here.

Monterville: Yes.

Cohen: We are breaking bread together.

Monterville: Woo.  You can—you are a member of the ministry.  Yes, you are, Brother Josh.  Oh, my gosh.  Yes, you—this is so good.  Oh, my gosh.  And this is me.  So I am easily excitable too.  I just—you know, this week, we had some challenges this week, but I’ma tell you the highlight of my week.

One of our team members—[SIGHS]—Jana Wentzel, amazing, talented, amazing professional, she just got this dream job in Forth Worth.  And I think I was more excited than her when she got the job, when she got the call yesterday, Josh.  Me and my deputy, we were just like, “Oh, it’s so great.  It’s so great.  It’s so great,” because it—you know, I was almost in tears because it’s such a beautiful thing to see people just walk in their light and walk in their gifts.  And if I could just be a fly on the wall 20 years from now and see where she goes—like, it just makes you—it gives me chills just thinking about it.  And there are so many people who have sown into me.  And, you know, I could name a list of people, you know, one you’ve spoken to, who blesses me.  And that’s what’s beautiful.  Corina Riggs [ph] has always lifted me up and had my back.  You know, I’ve had opportunities because of her, and she’ll—you know, you have to bring other people with you.  And that’s really, really huge.

And it’s a gift, and it’s a blessing, and I feel that when you serve others, you’re really—and I say this; when you serve the least, you’re serving the most.  And my mom, Linda Johnson [ph]—God bless her—single mom, had me at 17; you know, statistically, I should not be here.  She, you know, is amazing, lost a son to domestic violence.  But if you saw my mom, Josh, you’d be like, “Give me what she’s having,” because she is a jolly camper.  You know what I mean? 

Cohen: Mm-hmm.

Monterville: And, you know, it’s really just about surrounding yourself with people who are going to lift you up.  I listen to a lot of podcasts who my mentees and mentors have shared with me.  And it is about humility.  I often say, today, I think empathy is the new leadership.  You know, you have to lead from a place of empathy, and you have to recognize that you’re not the expert at everything.  And you have to create a culture and an environment where people feel like they’re leaders.  That’s one of the first things I told this team here.  I said, “You’re all leaders.”  If you’re getting up, putting your clothes on in the morning, you’re leading something.  If you can brush your own teeth, you know, you’re leading something.  And you have to take those small wins and recognize that there are people who wish they could be in your position, even when it seems like you’re not where you want to be, and where you should be, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in that moment.

And what I’m trying to do, the past several years I give myself a word for the year.  And when I get discouraged or, you know, when I’m just having my alone time, I’ll think about that word and think about how I’m applying it, and make sure it’s front and center.  And what I said last year was my word for this year—I did my vision board, and I think that’s so important too.  You know, I did my vision board two years ago.  I started doing vision boards, and I was like, “This is where I’m going to be.  This is what I’m going to do.”  I knew I wasn’t going to be where I was.

And my words for this year are “grace” and “patience.”  So when I’m challenged by a situation, by colleagues, by, you know, family, whatever it is, I say, “I have to first give them grace,” because they’re doing the best that they can with what they have.  You know, I don’t know everything they’re going through, so I have to give them grace.  And then I also have to give myself grace and recognize that, as much as—and that’s where the patience comes in; as much as I want to do a lot of things fast, and I like to move fast, I have to be patient and know that you can’t do everything, Tomika.  I know—and I get so excited, and I’m like, “Oh, let’s do this.  Let’s do this.”  But I have to pace myself.

And I was listening to one of my podcasts this morning, and I said, “You know, as you get older, you think you can do things, and you can do them quicker, but as you get older, you can’t do things as quickly as you used to.”

Cohen: Right.

Monterville: You also need to allot and give yourself more time.  And that’s what I’m trying to practice.  I’m trying to practice grace with myself and patience with myself, and to give other people grace and recognize, you know, they’re doing the best that they can do.  And if we all took that approach, I think we wouldn’t get as frustrated about the bad days, we wouldn’t be as offensive and mean to other people.  And that’s what I’m trying to work on.  Every day, I’m just trying to do better and be open to the constructive criticism that comes my way.  Because I know it’s all in love.  You know, and even if they don’t love me—

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: You know, the sun is going to shine with or without me.  And I always say, if you don’t live by a man’s applause, you won’t die by a man’s disappointment.  I forget who said it, but it’s so true.  And you have to just remind yourself of that.  You know, you’re going to have your bad days.  And you just go home, go to sleep, have your adult beverage of choice or do whatever exercise regimen and get those endorphins going and, you know, some serotonin in your life, and you’ll be all right.  You know?

Cohen: Well, that’s great.  I think that’s a great way for us to put a bow on our going to church today, and thank you for taking us into a little bit of your journey and also a little bit about what you’re doing there in San Antonio and some of the exciting stuff that’s ahead.  Thank you, Tomika.  This has been truly great, and I look forward to coming to visit at some point and having some donuts.

Monterville: You got to come visit.  If you like craft beer—that’s something my husband has turned me onto, which I love—there are so many.  And you know we’re a World Heritage gastronomic, like, Mecca, bruh.

Cohen: I know.

Monterville: You got to get here.  You got to get here. 

Cohen: All right.  And everybody else too.  I know a lot of good people are coming to San Antonio.  So I know it’s a double-edged sword there, with you want people but then you don’t want people.

Monterville: It is.  But I do want people to experience this place.

Cohen: That’s right.

Monterville: You know, if you come and live and enjoy it—I tell people, you know, I have had plans to retire to Hawaii, my husband and I.  And when we got here, I said, “You know what?  I just love this place so much.  I don’t want to leave.”  I said, “We can just be snowbirds in Hawaii.”

Cohen: Yeah.

Monterville: Because I think this is it for me.  I just really, really love this city.

Cohen: Thanks for joining me on The Movement podcast.

Monterville: Thank you, Josh.  Keep it moving, bruh.  Keep it moving.

F: Thanks for listening.  If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast.  You can find out more at or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP.  Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.