Sue McLaughlin: Macomb’s First Woman to Hold City Administrator

Josh Defibaugh

 Sue McLaughlin is the first female to hold the position of City Administrator for Macomb. The previous city administrator, Dean Torreson, held the position for over eight years before retiring on Feb. 29. The city administrator manages the day-to-day operations of the city.

 “City council and the mayor sets policy or things that they want to see happen in the city,” McLaughlin explained. “As administrator I make sure those things get done.”

 McLaughlin also oversees several city departments to ensure that what is getting done is getting done properly, safely and effectively. She oversees fire, police, water and other departments.

 “One of the things we’re looking at doing,” McLaughlin said is to ensure “we have a code enforcement.”

 Code enforcement refers to the enforcement of rules and laws, particularly written ones, and ensuring those rules and laws are followed.

 “When you see houses with broken-down cars in the front yard or trash everywhere, it’s (code enforcement’s) responsibility to
notify the home owner.” McLaughlin said.

 In that instance, McLaughlin would work with the Community Development Coordinator, Ray Heitner.

 “(We’re trying) to take a new, fresh look at that program,” McLaughlin said, “seeing if we’re doing all that we can be doing.”

 McLaughlin is also a mother. She has started visiting college campuses with her daughter. One of her concerns, as both city administrator and a mother, is ensuring that the city of Macomb is doing its part in “making the area look nice.” Part of that comes from code enforcement.

 Although McLaughlin has numerous years of experience in administrative work and is well educated, having received a master’s degree in communications from Illinois State University and a master’s in public administration from Northern Illinois University, she explains that female administrators aren’t as respected as their male counterparts.

 “I haven’t faced blatant discrimination,” McLaughlin said. “But I have faced some people who think women shouldn’t be in this position. (The woman) should be at home with the kids.”

 McLaughlin explains that though this kind of thinking is not outwardly spoken, its existence is alluded.

 “(The discrimination) has been tough to overcome in some situations,” McLaughlin said.

 She spoke of a group called the “13 percent Factor.” She explained that in the 1980s, it was that found only 13 percent of city managers or administrators were women.

 “Now, fast forward 30 years,” McLaughlin said. “It hasn’t changed. Thirteen percent of city managers are women.”

 Because of this, McLaughlin works with the Legacy Project. City managers and administrators across the state and the country, attempt to educate individuals as to why the amount of female city administrators is so low.

 “I think there is myriad of things,” McLaughlin said. “Sometimes women are afraid to maybe be as tough as they need to be. I know that I’ve been accused of being a ‘b-i-t-c-h’. But if I were man I’d just be a good manager. Some women just don’t want to deal with that.”

 McLaughlin explains that women are sometimes afraid to even apply for the jobs “because of the challenges or maybe they don’t think they’ll be successful.”

 In response to this growing problem, McLaughlin works with the International City Managers Association (ICMA). Across the nation, the ICMA is addressing the issues of gender discrimination.

 McLaughlin did not always work with cities or local government. She started producing television for CBS Milwaukee. After deciding she didn’t like the stress of television production, she took a job with the city of Rockford, Ill. She immensely enjoyed public service and local government.

 McLaughlin started as a city planner then moved up to be a planning and zoning director in Winnebago County. Her first city administrator
position was in Byron, Ill.

 “You’ve got deadlines, you’ve got working with the press,” McLaughlin said, regarding how her past experience with television and communications is  applicable to her position as city administrator.

 “Writing is a big issue. I write a lot of papers, letters, memos, recommendations.”

 She also explained that dealing with stress is a large factor, as well. Though she laughs now because the stress of working in television production was low in comparison to the levels she faces as city administrator.

 McLaughlin loves what she does and she’s felt welcome in the Macomb community. She hopes to further the development of Macomb with future projects and ideas.