The executive director of the non-profit organization, the Fullerton Collaborative, which brings others together around the goal of making Fullerton a healthier community, Pamela C. Keller, also serves as the City’s Mayor Pro Tem. She was elected to her first four-year term on the Fullerton City Council in November 2006, and was named Mayor Pro Tem in December 2008.
One might think Pamela Keller is just a wee bit busy wearing three hats, but eh Fullerton Mayor Pro Tem says bring it on and keep it coming.
“Oh, my three hats … I am very fortunate that the jobs I have are quite flexible. I am able to make a schedule from morning to night that fits in a little bit of everything,” the 46-year-old Keller said when asked how she juggles her duties.
“For other elected officials … sometimes, you just have to ‘say no’ — we get invited to so many events and cannot go to all of them. Our Council tries to divide up the events so that someone is representing the City since we all can’t be everywhere at once.”
But it is perhaps the Mayor Pro Tem job that is the most challenging as of late because of the downturn in the economy. Typically known as college town, Keller says things have been tough for many residents: Sales tax revenue, which is down and property tax revenue, which is also down due to foreclosures.
“Sadly, we have lost some small businesses and some others are barely hanging on. We have reduced our expenditures in every department and there is a hiring freeze,” she says.
Mayor Pro Tem Duties
As Mayor Pro Tem, Keller does enjoy serving the City of Fullerton; citing it as a “true honor.” She also doesn’t see the job as one that takes “a backseat” to the Mayor.
“Our Mayor rotation system is such that we have an equal vote on the Council and an opportunity to serve as Fullerton’s Mayor. I have lived in Fullerton since I was nine years old and I know so much about our city and its history. The best part is that I have been able to help people who normally have not had access to the system – people who are busy raising kids and working. Many never think about what goes on at City Hall or when they need to interact with their local government. I love being able to help them through the process,” she says
As Mayor Pro Tem, Keller has had an opportunity to participate in many amazing events, forums, and community meetings and as a result, she has grown tremendously in the position.
However, the job does have some challenges like having to be knowledgeable about many different subjects … i.e. taxes, sewers, affordable housing, transportation, water… and more.
“We all have our expertise when we get elected and the rest is learned on the job. That has been very satisfying to me. There is a lot of reading, research and listening that we must do in this position,” she says. “It is often a challenge to keep up with it all. However, I have enjoyed that challenge.”
Blame The State
Perhaps another big challenge for Fullerton has been at the State level – Keller says the reason California seems to be in a permanent budget crunch is pretty basic.
“The system is broken. Cities are not allowed to spend beyond their means and they must have a ‘rainy day’ fund,” she explains. “The State could take some lessons from the cities on how to balance a budget.”
Speaking of cities, she is definitely an advocate for Fullerton, a place she and her family fondly call home.
“Well, we did proclaim to be the ‘Education Community,’ and I think that is a positive thing,” she says. “We are a college town but not the kind that empties out when summer comes along. Many families have lived here for generations. We have a big city with a small town feel. I really don’t think we need to change that at all!”
But contrary to its stereotype of being a college town [Cal State University, Fullerton is here], Fullerton is made up of “a nice variety of people,” Keller says.
“With more than 50,000 students commuting into our city each day, we have many educators who choose to live here as well,” she continues. “We are very proud of our small businesses; we have a thriving downtown scene and a number of industrial sites. What I have seen is that people are tightening their wallets. They are looking for more free entertainment; ways to be with their fellow Fullertonians that won’t break the bank. Families are losing their homes and some are having to double up with other families in order to make ends meet. Many people are looking for work.”
Keller says the Downtown Business Association and Chamber of Commerce recently headed a successful campaign to “Shop Fullerton First” over the holidays to bring some funds into Fullerton.
“We are a tight-knit community and I am feeling like people are really trying to support one another through it all,” she adds.
Another important topic in Keller’s life is her work with the Fullerton Collaborative, which works to give services where the healthcare system leaves a gap.
“I think it is important to insure all of California’s children in order to keep them healthy. I am not an expert on healthcare reform and from my position, I do not have the power to make those policy changes but our system does need to be revamped,” she says
By working with the Fullerton Collaborative, it has actually helped her within her role as Mayor Pro-Tem.
“Working with the Fullerton Collaborative gives me the opportunity to know our City from a very grassroots level. The work I do every day allows me to interact with a variety of citizens from all parts of our community. I speak fluent Spanish so that helps with my work as well. The ability to speak another language opens up a whole other world of people in our city. I wish I could put a computer chip in my brain that gave me the ability to speak other languages,” she says.
The Collaborative is mostly focused on Obesity Prevention, Gang Prevention and the Achievement Gap.
“Under this umbrella is a whole myriad of subjects. Sometimes, my worlds collide in a good way—I am able to gain an understanding of issues from a variety of perspectives. I often find out about issues that are happening in our City that I may not have known otherwise. Other times it can be fussy,” she says. “I have had to excuse myself a few times when the City and our non-profits collaborate on a grant and I have been involved from the other side. I guess the big difference for me is that I do not gain financially in any of those situations, so the gain is for our community and I am good with that.”
Right Place, Right Time
Keller always seems to be in the right place at the right time, too. She attended the Town Hall with then Sen. Obama when he was in Costa Mesa last year and she took away quite an impression
“I did vote for Obama,” she says. “My 11-year-old son helped me vote on election day so he was really excited about Obama. I was able to take him to the Town Hall meeting as well. It feels great to have a young, charismatic person as our President. He answered random questions from the crowd and was very relaxed in his answers. I did feel the hope that he talks about. He didn’t sugarcoat anything or try to blame someone else for the problems. I respected that,” she recalls.